What's the meaning of the phrase 'Petty cash'?
An easily accessible store of money, intended for small purchases.
What's the origin of the phrase 'Petty cash'?
The term 'petty cash' derives directly from the word 'petty' meaning 'minor'; 'small'; 'of secondary importance'. 'Petty cash' was a small amount of cash that was kept aside for trifling purchases, too small to require the effort of the making out and cashing of a cheque.
The first use of 'petty cash' that I can find in print in the instructional document published in London by Benjamin Billingsley - Advice to the women and maidens of London, 1678:
...House-keeping, and other petty Charges, my Father made it my office to... set all down in a book.
Now in regard that other learnings do depend upon this petty Cash account; I find it therefore convenient to give you an example of a moneths expence, and you will thereby see what further use may be made of it afterwards.
The text refers throughout to the writer being a woman but, as was the custom at that date, the author's name is omitted.