“Schei” (pronunciation: skɛi) is a Venetian term to generally indicate money. At the time of the Lombard-Venetian reign (1815-1866), when Veneto was under the Austrian hegemony of the Habsburgs, there were some coins in circulation on which was written in German “Scheide Münze“, whose meaning is that of divisional currency. These coins were of small size, suitable for payments of limited amount: the so-called pennies. Not knowing the German language, the Venetians shortened this long word by pronouncing only the first part, “schei“, and consequently “scheo” in the singular.
The second part of the word “Scheide Münze” was also Venetianized, changing from German “demünze” to Venetian “de mona“. However, usually only the first part was used to indicate money, only very few times was the whole word used. The law of the time provided that anyone who had less than 5 “Scheidemünze”, 5 coins, in his pocket was arrested for vagrancy. The expression “aver sinque schei de mona in scarsea” was then common. In fact, to have at least five pennies was the minimum threshold not to be considered a “bum” and to avoid ending up in jail.
In addition to indicating money, the term also has other meanings. It indicates something small, like “picoło fa un scheo” (knee-high to a grasshopper) or a short length, like a centimeter: “spòsteło de vinti schei” means move it 20 centimeters. The phrase “esar sensa schei” is used for being without money, while “aver quatro schei” in Veneto means, with understatement and ironically, to have many.
The words “franco” and “franchi” were also used in Venice and in the whole Veneto to indicate a sum of money. The terms derive from an Austrian coin bearing the abbreviation “Franc”, indicating the name of Emperor Franz Joseph. The two terms were however associated with the old Italian lire: “trenta franchi” was thirty lire; “‘na carta da mìłe franchi” was a thousand lire bill. Nowadays there is still the phrase “aver un franco” which means having money.
It can be said that since the 1800’s this way of calling money (schei or franchi) began to spread and has remained unchanged until today.