English monetary unit, Middle English shilling, from Old English scilling, scylling, a coin of account consisting of a varying number of pence (on the continent and in England after the Conquest, commonly 12 pennies to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound), from Proto-Germanic *skillingoz- (source also of Old Saxon, Danish, Swedish, Old Frisian, Old High German skilling, Old Norse skillingr, Dutch schelling, German Schilling, Gothic skilliggs).
Some etymologists trace this to the root *skell- "to resound, to ring," and others to the root *(s)kel- (1) "to cut" (perhaps via sense of "shield" from resemblance to one or as a device on coins (see shield (n.)) or from the cut or clipped segments of precious metal used as money).
The ending may represent the diminutive suffix -ling, or Germanic -ing "fractional part" (compare farthing). Old Church Slavonic skulezi, Polish szeląg, Spanish escalin, French schelling, Italian scellino are loan-words from Germanic. The modern English silver shilling dates to Henry VII.
Reckoning by the shilling is still not uncommon in some parts of the United States, especially in rural New England. [Century Dictionary, 1891]
updated on September 07, 2022