Open main menu



Etymology 1Edit

Formed within English, by compounding: paper (noun) + money (noun)


paper money (uncountable)

  1. Cash in the form of banknotes.

Etymology 2Edit

Calque of Chinese 紙錢纸钱 (zhǐqián).

Alternative formsEdit

  • paper-money


paper money (uncountable)

  1. A type of joss paper resembling banknotes burnt to venerate the deceased, ancestor spirits, deities, etc.
    • 1848, Samuel Wells Williams, The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the Chinese Empire and its Inhabitants, page 558:
      Moreover, you say that serving Fuh is a profitable service; that if you burn paper money, present offerings, and keep fasts before the face of your god Fuh, he will dissipate calamities, blot out your sins, increase your happiness, and prolong your age!
    • 1873, William Curry, Jun., & Company, The Dublin University Magazine, volume 81, page 393:
      Tablets in honour of the dead are set up in every house over a sort of family altar; and at certain times flowers are offered and paper-money is burned at these shrines.
    • 1893, Henry Addison Nelson & Albert B. Robinson, The Church at Home and Abroad, page 108:
      Tsze Chien means “paper money” – not the real bank notes which are so extensively used in China as money but the make-believe tinsel money which the Chinese burn as part of their religious worship.
    • 1931, United States National Museum, Proceedings of the United States National Museum, volume 80, page 75:
      People had also begun to burn paper money (it was believed that burning transformed it into real money that could be used by the departed souls in hades) instead of placing actual coins in the tombs.
    • 1967, C. Y. Lee, The land of the golden mountain, page 175:
      “Let’s burn the paper money,” Mai Mai said. She brought out a stack of yellow paper from her pocket – coarse paper with small circles cut in it to represent coins. Longevity lighted the paper money and kowtowed another time.
    • 1985, Joseph Needham & Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin, Science and Civilisation in China, page 102:
      The paper money for the spirits consisted of imitations either of metal coins or of real money, but the latter had different sets of inscriptions and patterns to distinguish it from counterfeit money.
    • 1996, Joo Ee Khoo, The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, page 53:
      After paying homage to the departed, the ritual is concluded by a libation of rice wine poured on to an additional stack of burning paper money.
    • 2003, Charles de Ledesma, Mark Lewis & Pauline Savage, The rough guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei, page 414:
      Supplicants burn paper money and joss sticks, and pray for good fortune to the temple deity, Tua Pek Kong.
    • 2007, Catherine Chambers, End-of-life rituals, page 7:
      Many societies follow traditional funeral rites and practices. In China, this may involve burning paper money or possessions for the deceased to use in the afterlife.
    • 2016, Kelly Jackson-Nash, CultureShock! Singapore, page [unpaginated]:
      If a mourner is either Taoist or Buddhist they may hold a burning joss stick while bowing. A family member will usually be kneeling nearby to burn joss sticks and paper money.
    • 2017, Lonely Planet, Lonely Planet Discover Malaysia & Singapore: Top sights, authentic experiences, page [unpaginated]:
      Built in the early 19th century by the first Hokkien and Cantonese settlers in Penang, the temple isn’t so impressive architecturally, but it’s very central and popular with the Chinese community, and seems to be forever swathed in smoke from the outside furnaces where whorshippers burn paper money, and from the incense sticks waved around inside.
Usage notesEdit

Not commonly used in spoken English, though not uncommon in written works. Also, commonly collocate with "burn" as in "burn paper money".