The word ringgit is an obsolete term for “jagged” in Malay and was originally used to refer to the serrated edges of silver Spanish dollars which circulated widely in the area during the 16th and 17th century Portuguese colonial era. In modern usage ringgit is used almost solely for the currency. Due to the common heritage of the three modern currencies, the Singapore dollar and the Brunei dollar are also called ringgit in Malay (currencies such as the US and Australian dollars are translated as dolar), although nowadays the Singapore dollar is more commonly called dolar in Malay. To differentiate between the three currencies, the Malaysian currency is referred to as Ringgit Malaysia, hence the official abbreviation and currency symbol RM. Internationally, the ISO 4217 currency code for Malaysian ringgit is MYR.
The Malay names ringgit and sen were officially adopted as the sole official names in August 1975. Previously they had been known officially as dollars and cents in English and ringgit and sen in Malay, and in some parts of the country this usage continues. In the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia, denominations of 10 sen are called kupang in Malay and called pua̍t (鏺/鈸) in Penang Hokkien which is thought to be derived from the Thai word baht. e.g. 50 sen is lima kupang in Malay and gōo-pua̍t (五鏺/鈸) in Hokkien. The South Indian communities in Malaysia refer ringgit as “VeLLi” (வெள்ளி) which means silver in Tamil. They use the Tamil word “kaasu” “(காசு)” for sen, which the English word “cash” derived from.
Early history (1967–1997)
On 12 June 1967, the Malaysian dollar, issued by the new central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, replaced the Malaya and British Borneo dollar at par. The new currency retained all denominations of its predecessor except the $10,000 denomination, and also brought over the colour schemes of the old dollar. Over the course of the following decades, minor changes were made on the notes and coins issued, from the introduction of the M$1 coin in 1967, to the demonetization of RM500 and RM1,000 notes in 1999.
As the Malaysian dollar replaced the Malaya and British Borneo dollar at par and Malaysia was a participating member of the sterling area, the new dollar was originally valued at 8.57 dollars per 1 British pound sterling. In November 1967, five months after the introduction of the Malaysian dollar, the pound was devalued by 14.3%, leading to a collapse in confidence for the sterling area and its demise in 1972. The new currency was not affected but earlier notes of the Malaya and British Borneo dollar were still pegged at 8.57 dollars per 1 pound; consequently these notes were reduced in value to 85 cents per dollar.
Despite the emergence of new currencies in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, the Interchangeability Agreement which the three countries adhered to as original members of the currency union meant the Malaysian dollar was exchangeable at par with the Singapore dollar and Brunei dollar. This ended on 8 May 1973, when the Malaysian government withdrew from the agreement. The Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board still maintain the interchangeability of their two currencies, as of 2017.
In 1993, the currency symbol “RM” (Ringgit Malaysia) was introduced to replace the use of the dollar sign “$” (or “M$”).