Canadian versus Australian Coins

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Here is a conversation I had with an Aussie mate the other day:

Me: “Do you have a nickel?”

Aussie Mate: “A what?”

Me: “A nickel”.

Aussie Mate: “A what?”

Me: “Oh for god’s sake. A nickel! You know – a five-cent piece!”

Aussie Mate: “OH! You mean a five-cent piece!” (hands over said currency)

Me: “Why? What do you call five-cent pieces here in Australia?”

Aussie Mate: (pause). “Um…five-cent pieces”.

Of course.

I have to give Australians credit for their penchant for practicality.

This post was originally published in 2009. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

But this in turn, sparked a comparison of our respective Canadian versus Australian coins, and what they are called. I realized, in turn, that we Canadians are a little….well…loony.

Here is a breakdown of our respective coin denominations and names:

Canadian versus Australian coins

AUSTRALIAN COINS

Five-Cent Piece (not shown here)

Ten-Cent Piece

Twenty-Cent Piece

Fifty-Cent Piece (not shown here)

One Dollar Coin

Two Dollar Coin

And in the name of practicality, these coins are all named just what they are. This leaves little to the imagination. Canadians, on the other hand, like to confuse and befuddle:

CANADIAN COINS

Penny – one-cent piece (unlike Australia, we still have the penny)

Nickel – five-cent piece

Dime – ten-cent piece

Quarter – 25-cent piece

Loonie (yes, you read it right) – dollar coin

Toonie (no really, I’m serious) – two dollar coin

I remember when we introduced the dollar coin in Canada many years ago, there was a big deal made of what to name it, the process calling for national input and even votes. Because of Canada’s famous loon (a gorgeous water bird with a captivating call), “Loonie” seemed to fit.

And due to a combination of our lack of imagination and unique sense of humour, it only made sense to call our ensuing two-dollar coin a Toonie.

Rick Mercer is a Canadian political satirist who did a series called “Talking To Americans.” In it, he approached Americans (usually in small towns in states that are far away from the Canadian border, and that have little to do with their northern neighbours), and tell them outlandish stories about Canada (like that our parliament buildings are made of ice – because we do live in igloos after all – and that because of global warming our government is melting). And more often than not, his interviewees actually believed the stories.

The one story they DIDN’T believe (and how can you blame them), is that we call our one-dollar coin a Loonie.

In the tale of Canadian versus Australian coins, Canada wins by virtue of the tale of the Loonie and Toonie.

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38 thoughts on “Canadian versus Australian Coins”

  1. Isn’t it spelled Two-nie? 😉

    My husband and I are wading in to the world of over-seas travel and I probably needed the reminder about currency names. 🙂

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    • @Christy – It could well be the Twonie. It just didn’t look right to me on paper, so I opted for Toonie. Heck – with a name like that, I’m not sure it really matters! (I love being Canadian).

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  2. Having grown up in a border town, we drove over to the US quite a bit. I remember the first time I paid the bridge toll with a loonie – the toll booth guy called it the “Brain Mulooney” with a big smile on his face… see what he did there? Brian.. Mulroney… loonie… dollar coins… crazy canucks…

    And we gotta get rid of our “penny” – it’s just silly.

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  3. Nope, I am pretty sure that it is spelled a toonie that way it looks more like a loonie. I love our currency. Only in Canada would we call our two dollar piece a toonie. Great post. I would find saying 5 cent piece, 10 cent piece etc. very long. It is too hard for me. I like things short and sweet!

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  4. What a fun post! I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Oz but that particular conversation never came up. I guess because beautiful Sudbury and its massive nickle mines are also part of our heritage we just had to call 5C a nickle, eh?

    By the way, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” really blew my mind with his riff on the implications of the names different cultures assign to numbers. He could probably do a good job on this money stuff.

    Thanks for a good Saturday morning chuckle.

    Gwen McCauley

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    • @Gwen – Thanks! One of my favourite things about travel (and slow travel at that) are celebrating the little differences that exist between cultures. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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  5. While as an Australian, I still get nickels and dimes confused when visiting North America, I love the idea that your dollar coins are called loonies and toonies. I think that says a lot about the relaxed nature of Canadians. Australia ditched 1c and 2c pieces some years ago and it went seamlessly – noone misses them.

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    • @Mark H – Me too! I never realized how relaxed Canadians are about these things until I went away and saw Canada through new eyes. I love it!

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  6. I love the fact they’ve done away with the penny. Although, I’ve often thought of documenting all the rounding up/down in all my transactions and find out once and for all…who really comes out on top? Does it really average out? Or am I spending more than I should (or getting a bargain)?

    @MarkH – I never knew there was a 2 cent piece…now that’s just getting ridiculous! 🙂

    One thing that took some time to get used to is the 50 cent pieces. My god they are HUGE! Shouldn’t the size/weight of the coin be proportional to the denomination? The $2 coin is smaller than the 50 cent piece and the $1 coin.

    Also, I much prefer the “quarter” (25 cents to you Aussies) to the 20 cent piece. Quarter is so handy to say. What do you call a 20 cent piece? A “fifth”? Do you have a “fifth” I can borrow? Weird 🙂

    I have to admit though, the Aussie bills are way better than the Canuck bills. Smaller and more robust.

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    • @Carlo – I too like the Aussie bills (they’re colourful, like Canadian bills) – and they’re plastic, so getting accidentally thrown in the wash isn’t a big deal!
      But I don’t like that the bills are different sizes….makes for a messy wallet! (not that I have many bills in my wallet at any time….sigh…the life of a Professional Hobo…) *smiles*

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    • What do you call a 20 cent piece? A “fifth”? Do you have a “fifth” I can borrow?

      It would be “Do you have 20 cents I could borrow?” 🙂

      But then again, we wouldn’t ask for a dime, we’d ask if you had a spare ten cents.

      But you have a good point about the $2 and the 50c. I’ve never understood why the coin that’s worth the most is the smallest (well, other than the 5c) while the 50c has to be the only one with straight edges.

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      • Hi Annie – I’ve just toured through eight European countries in the last month, managing all kinds of coins. And you know what? None of them made sense! Ha ha!

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      • The reason Australia uses 5,10,20,50c coins that are the size that they are is because prior to 1966 we used the British Imperial Fractional system (gold and silver standard coinage) – 12 pennies to 1 Shilling, 20 Shillings to a Pound. The coins were all made of real silver (Sterling Silver)- Three pence (3d), sixpence(6d), 1 Shilling(1s), 1 Florin (2s), Crown (5 Shillings) etc… So, todays modern decimalised fiat coins (no intrinsic value) are a direct replacement. i.e the 5c is the same size as the old silver sixpence. 10c replaced the Shilling. 20c replaced the Florin. Yes – todays coins are way too large! Especially the 50c coin (which used to be round and silver). The $1 and $2 coins replaced paper notes in 1984 and 1988 respectively and they replaced the 10 Shilling note and 1 Pound note. Wow – Does that help? lol.

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  7. Well that’s one way to deal with politicians and the government, if you don’t like it, burn the ice and it will all melt away, no more government, got to love it.
    I have to say you Canuck’s (that’s what you guys call yourself right?) do have some pretty interesting coins and interesting names for sure, I like it.
    But I think I’ll stick with our colourful unwashable, like Carlo mentioned, notes. *grin*
    Though with you still using the pennies, do you actually ever spend them or do they sit away somewhere in the back of the cupboard, I don’t think I would bother with them.

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  8. @Kaitlin – Yes, pennies still get used. They also tend to migrate to jars and utility drawers, and will occasionally be wrapped up and exchanged at the bank (for the very industrious and less lazy of us).
    I think that using pennies just requires a more concentrated effort to provide exact change (or at least spend the pennies)…at least it does for me.

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  9. @professionalhobo: The notes are different sizes for the visually impaired. All the same height but they get gradually wider. The blind society seems to indicate that the method works well.

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  10. Canada doesn’t have a “dime” it’s a ten cent piece. The U.S has a “dime” from the french “Le Disme” Anglisized from the 1792 Birch Half-dimse by Thomas Jefferson. The slang was borrowed and when asked virtully no Canadian can pin down the history (because there wasn’t one). As An Australian/ Canadian I’m a bit curious why Australians can differentiate a “Penny” from a “Cent” when they stopped using the Britsih system in 1966 and Canadians still (incorrectly) call a “Cent” a “Penny” even though they stopped using the Britsih system of Pence in 1858 ?!?!

    Curious Mate..

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  11. @Jerry – Thanks for the education! As a born-and-raised Canadian, I hadn’t realized that “dime” wasn’t ours, as everybody calls it so. And I too am flummoxed by the distinct absence of pennies/cents here in Australia (and New Zealand), especially when things are still priced down to the penny/cent!

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  12. Just found this through a whimsical Google search. (You’d think there’d be more sites comparing images of international coins, but anyway…) I’m Australian, and noticed the way you call coins with value less than a dollar “pieces” and coins with value at least a dollar “coins”. I’ve never heard of anyone, anywhere, making that distinction before, and Australians certainly don’t. They’re all coins. (They’re also all pieces, but “coin” is the more common word – can’t remember the last time I heard “piece”.)

    Looking around, I see you have more posts about Australian/Canadian differences. Of course, some of these apply to Australians in general, some to just a minority of eccentric Australians, and some to only certain parts of the country. (There are reasons why other Australians think Queenslanders are weird…) I’m sure you know that, in principle, but your grasp of which are which is obviously tenuous. There’s something disconcerting about seeing them all listed together, like seeing a platypus swimming with crocodiles…

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  13. Actually, come to think of it, “two dollar piece” does sound weird, but “five cent piece” etc also sounds a little bit foreign to me. (Not as foreign as calling “notes” “bills”, but still.) People do use the word, but hardly ever, and there might be demographic factors I can’t speak to. So I suspect your aussie mate was being accommodating, and would ordinarily have said “five cent coin”.

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  14. @Adrian – Thanks for weighing in! I know that any picture I have of Oz will be only as good as the frame of reference I have, which certainly can’t always be accommodating of all Aussies or all of Australia. Sorry if that offends you….it’s a travel thing, I guess. I did live in Oz for over a year and a half, and traveled a fair bit around though…

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  15. Offended is way too strong a word.

    Your posts on Australian abbreviations are a good example of what I meant. Some of your examples I have never heard (e.g. lappie for laptop, sanger for sandwich, avo for avocardo, bizzo for business), while others are well known as part of the Australian stereotype but actually quite rare at least outside of Queensland/NT (e.g. croc for crocodile, sunnies for sunglasses, bottle-O for bottle shop, smoko for smoke break). Also, you say in one post that Australians pronounce the ‘h’ in the name of the letter H, but most don’t. I do, as it happens, but only because I’m a nonconformist.

    Other comments that occur to me trawling through your archives include the observation that pavlova, in my opinion, absolutely must include mulberries because any other fruit is too bland, and – given that you apparently call caravans trailers – a query as to what you would call actual trailers (picture of trailer: http://www.egrtrailers.com.au/photos/Car_Trailers/car-trailer-grey1.jpg)

    (Actually I was raised to call the motorised ones caravans and the ones attached to the back of a car campervans, which is the other way around to what Wikipedia says. Odd.)

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  16. @Adrian – Funny…I’ve heard many of your characteristic Queensland phrases in Victoria…I guess it’s all about where we are and who we keep company with.

    As for trailers, we in North America also call the trailers you picture “trailers”! A tad confusing maybe, but there you go.

    PS – LOVE mulberries!

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  17. I didn’t realise that Canada names their coins like Americans do! As an Aussie, this naming of coins other than their names is so confusing!!

    A Loonie and a Twonie! I have never heard of these names! Hilarious!

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  18. @Tash – I love telling the story to people from other places in the world of how we came to name our beloved Loonie and Twoonie. It’s a little glimpse into how Canadians as a nation don’t take themselves too seriously, and we sure like to have a little fun – even if it’s at the expense of our currency!

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  19. Thanks for the chuckles! Made me laugh. I have always been fascinated by the currencies of other countries. Every time I go to another country I always bring back a little bit of currency from there (of course not the expensive big bills) as a souvenir and even some extras to give to my sister’s kids. However, my collection is probably pretty small compared to how big a collection like that would be to someone like you. Do you collect a little bit of currency from every country you visit? You would exhibit something like that in a museum someday if you did!

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    • Hey Christine!
      Ha ha – no, I’ll let coin collectors take care of the museum stuff. In fact, I usually give myself a playful challenge in every country, to acquire and spend the exact amount of cash I need, to the last cent! I aim to leave without any currency. (Hint: it often involves running around in the airport on the way out, trying to figure out how best to spend my last $4.52 – ha ha)!

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  20. I never really noticed the whole piece thing for less than a dollar, however i think it kinda makes sense. 1,5,10,20,50 cent piece is a “piece” of a whole dollar. I guess like many things word just got around and kinda stuck.

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