I've been watching Cheers to improve my English, and there's one phrase I don't quite understand. In season 1, episode 6, Coach tells Diane "I need a 10 in silver, honey" while passing her a $10. I found a copy of the subtitles for the episode here.

My understanding is that he gives her the money in order to get change from Melville's upstairs. However, I don't understand what change she's getting. Does silver imply that she needs to get coins in a specific denomination? For example, if someone were to tell me "I need a 5 in silver", would that mean I would need to give them quarters specifically?

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    It should probably be noted that the last episode of Cheers was made almost 30 years ago and could contain references or phrases that would be dated today. I'm 41 years old (too young to have frequented bars at that time) and don't think I've ever heard anyone use that phrase.
    – Seth R
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 18:44
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    in the UK (so not an answer, as Cheers is an American show), there is also the use of "coppers" and "silvers" as terms for specific coins ("coppers" is much more common than "silvers" though, and these days you don't hear either that often). Coppers refers to the 1p & 2p coins (which are copper-coated), and silvers refers to the 5p, 10p, 20p, & 50p coins (which are silver-coloured)
    – Tristan
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 10:03
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    @Tristan maybe it's regional, but I'm used to "coppers" vs "silver" (the former a plural, the latter a mass noun). London originally, now Bristol
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 16:17

6 Answers 6


It just means "coins" in general. So $9.55 in silver would include one nickel as well as 38 quarters. I assume the term came from old times where many coins were made of real silver (this would mean pennies are not included as silver since they were not commonly made with silver). It's basically just a term to ask for change in coins.

If the person wants all dimes instead of the least possible number of coins then they would need to specify how they wanted the change. Just like if you say "Can I get change for a twenty-dollar bill?" the person would assume that two ten-dollar bills, one ten-dollar bill and two five-dollar bills, or one ten-dollar bill, one five-dollar bill, and five one-dollar bills would be equally acceptable options. If that person wanted 20 one-dollar bills they would need to specify. So, all quarters would be expected for ten dollars in silver, and if the person wanted something else, they would need to specify.

Since ten dollars is the value of a roll of quarters, it is likely that is what he was asking for.

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    Your useful answer could use a bit more punctuation, especially commas. There's a widespread convention in media circles (I've worked for several international broadcasters) that journalists should write out numbers from one to ten and use digits thereafter. It makes life much simpler for newsreaders - and for the rest of us as well. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 19:17
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    Similarly to the exclusion of US pennies, in British English "silver" refers to coins from 5p to 50p (the latter being about 65¢ US), from their long-standing colour (nickel alloy). Smaller denominations are copper (plate these days) while £1 coins are a golden brass and the more recent £2 coins two-tone brass and nickel. US$1 coins have been both silver and brass, but never common, while quarters are needed for many coin-operated machines
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 11:32
  • silver and money are the same word in some languages (Hebrew - כסף, others too). So maybe this is an old-timey saying from when money was coins?
    – Jonathan
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 11:38
  • It doesn't really need to have anything to do with actual silver, because the coins are still silver-colored. Even in the 80s, giving someone a bunch of pennies was basically useless, so your choices for money are "silver" (coins) or "green" (bills). Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 14:43
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    Up until 1965, US dimes and quarters (not nickels unless you go back to 1883) were made with actual silver. This show being in the 80's, those would still be in fairly common circulation. Even now you occasionally spot them - you can tell by the lack of a copper stripe on the edges (or just check the year if you know about that). But yeah, the phrase obviously refers to the color rather than the actual material. Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 13:37

All answers here are more or less correct, but in the context of your question (you are learning english), the colloquialism of this phrase means knowing its meaning is not very useful to anyone learning English. In all honesty, as a native (American) English speaker, I would be able to tell from context what the meaning was, but I would still be kind of confused, and be wondering if it was referring to some sort of joke that referred to something before my time. If someone said this to me, I would respond with a confused look and a "what?" Ff the person laughed, indicating a joke, my response would be "I don't get it..."

Someone asking for change, at least in America, would usually just say, "can I get [some amount of cash] in quarters?" Possibly following with what they needed the change for (e.g. "Can I get a dollar in quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Could you possibly give me change for a five? I need it for the laundry machines next door.")

If you needed some amount of coins in exchange for a larger denomination bill, you might say, "Excuse me, I need change for the parking meter... Here's a $20, can I get a ten, a five, a few singles, and the rest in quarters, please?"

With inflation, there really isn't a need for any coin smaller than a quarter (25 cents), in America nowadays. Laundry machines almost exclusively take quarters, and are some of the last things that anyone really would need coins for (and nowadays, many laundromats have machines that take credit/debit cards). The only other thing I can think of is a parking meter, although most major cities in the US have either retrofitted old parking meters to allow them to take credit/debit cards, or replaced them with some other sort of system. In Manhattan, last time I parked at a meter, it was $2.00/hour! Change holders fill up pretty fast at that cost, and meter maids are better dispatched to write tickets than be constantly emptying them.

Hope this helps!

  • There is a lot of unnecessary fluff here, and I wonder if the part that actually answers the question is very helpful. Please take a look at our Tour to get to know our platform. Welcome to ELL!
    – Joachim
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 6:21
  • It depends on where you live. I live in the southern US and I actually worked as a cashier in my younger days and although I can't recall someone using this term, I often heard similar terms for the first time from older people. So, it wouldn't really be weird for my to hear another new phrase such as this. Older people use these terms a lot no expecting you to have heard them, but just to understand the meaning and move on. It's almost like when someone creates an innuendo on the spot. Everyone knows what it means, but doesn't think it is weird that it was said.
    – Eli Harold
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 12:18
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    @Joachim: I feel like this is the only helpful answer. This page doesn't have a single citation showing coins referred to as "silver", and have never heard nor read the term, in this usage, myself. We're all guessing at the meaning, which the OP already figured out. As an (American) ELL, it's probably most helpful to realize this is an unusual usage that's really only relevant in context. However, other comments indicate this might actually be relevant to a British ELL.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 2:35

Since he says "I need a ten in silver" as opposed to "I need ten in silver", it's most likely that in context he's asking Diane to get a roll of quarters which is worth $10. Without the "a', it could be ambiguous if he wants quarters specifically or just coins in general.


As @EliHarold suggests, it means coins in general, although there’s usually a tacit understanding that it excludes one-cent coins and perhaps also dollar coins. A common reason for the request is to pay for merchandise from a vending machine, and most vending machines will not take one-cent coins. The reason for saying “in silver” is because most US coinage other than the one-cent coin was at one time made of real silver, and to this day, they maintain a silver coloring.

There used to be a fifty-cent coin (also originally silver, and silver in color until the government stopped minting them), and one-dollar coins also used to be silver (and were silver in color until comparatively recently). Many one-dollar coins now have a gold appearance, though if one-dollar coins are acceptable as change for larger bills, the “in silver” usage still applies.

If the change for a bill larger than $1 doesn’t have to be in coins, the typical request would be “Can you break a «large-bill»?”.

  • Regarding the 50 cent coin, it appears they stopped production because of oversupply, not because they were discontinuing the coin and that production has recently restarted. coinworld.com/news/us-coins/… Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 0:09

U.S. quarters were minted from 90% silver until 1964. This was nearly twenty years before Cheers aired, but would have been the case for most of the character's life. The actor who played "Coach" was born in 1924. I think the character is asking for a $10 roll of quarters, and showing his age a bit.

  • Interesting take. I have not seen the show nor do I understand the context given as it relates to the show, but as a enthusiast of film creation it would make a lot of sense if the line was added to purposely show his age. That is likely a detail that someone who is not culturally adapted would miss.
    – Eli Harold
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 12:23
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    @EliHarold the context as it relates to the show is: there's a type of coin, the quarter, that’s often bought in ten-dollar rolls, for use in places such as laundromats. They were made from silver until 1964. The show aired about two decades after they no longer were, in the early ’80s, but the character who asked for $10 “in silver” was old enough that quarters had been silver for most of his life.
    – Davislor
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 0:09

In British English (and coinage) "in silver" traditionally referred to silver coins (when I was growing up, sixpences, shillings, florins (or two-shilling pieces) and half crowns, being, by then, made of a silver coloured alloy. Coppers were pennies and ha'pennies - again no longer copper by that time. Gold had long passed out of use, guineas and sovereigns were by and large only linguistic conveniences.

In modern day coinage coppers are 1p and 2p, silver is 5p, 10p 20p and 50p.

The distinction was twofold, value, so if someone gave you a couple of coppers it wasn't much money, whereas silver was more valuable. Secondly coppers were heavy to carry around, silver was more convenient.

Other values of coins have existed, but apart from the former 3d (brass), 1/2p (copper) and the later (now bimetallic) £1 and £2, haven't been in much use in my lifetime,

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coins_of_the_pound_sterling for more on British coinage.

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