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Cross and Pile

Money; pitch and toss. Hilaire le Gai tells us that some of the ancient French coins had a cross, and others a column, on the reverse; the column was called a pile, from which comes our word “pillar,” and the phrase “pile-driving.” Scaliger says that some of the old French coins had a ship on the reverse, the arms of Paris, and that pile means “a ship,” whence our word “pilot.”

“A man may now justifiably throw up cross and pile for his opinions.” —Locke: Human Understanding.

Cross or pile. Heads or tails. The French say pile ou face. The “face” or cross was the obverse of the coin, the “pile” was the reverse; but at a later period the cross was transferred to the reverse, as in our florins, and the obverse bore a “head” or “poll.”

“Marriage is worse than cross I win, pile you lose.” Shadwell: Epsom Wells.

Cross nor pile. I have neither cross nor pile. Not a penny in the world. The French phrase is, “N'avoir ni croix ni pile ” (to have neither one sort of coin nor another).

“Whacum had neither cross nor pile.” Butler: Hudibras, part ii. 3.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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