Nugget of Knowledge: Plug nickel

Daybreak

The origins of the phrases "plugged nickel" and "excuse my French"

(WYTV) – Some of our early coins from the 18th and 19th centuries were made with a small silver disc added to the center of the coin to give it some value.

A plug nickel or plugged nickel is a nickel in which someone has taken out that center disc and plugged it up with some other metal, less valuable than silver.

They were no longer legal tender so they were worth nothing.

People would often examine their change after a cash transaction to make sure they didn’t get such a coin.

Before there were “plugged nickels” there were “plugged quarters” and “plugged dimes.” the phrase pops up around the 1880s, even a plugged cent around 1908.

But the plugged nickel was the expression that stuck to express worthlessness.

And “pardon my French” or “excuse my French” means that you’re about to say something foul.

Why French?

The phrase appears in the 1800s.

English speakers would drop French words or phrases into the conversation to show a little snootiness. “Jimmy has a certain Je ne sais quoi,” and then apologize if the listener wasn’t familiar with the word or didn’t speak the language.

The English loved to insult the French, referring to leaving a party without saying goodbye as “taking French leave” or herpes as the “French disease.”

So the English could curse and call it French.

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