[A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors"]
The habit of President Bush (and, to be fair, Congress) of spending mountains of cash
and cutting taxes at the same time has many heads spinning. It's all about the money.
Indo-European language history is older than the use of coin as money, and the most ancient words for "money" are based on the chief standard of value in very ancient times: cattle. This survives in English in a few words -- fee, pecuniary,
etc. -- which were discussed in an earlier carnival.
Some other pre-coin standards of value that have become words for "money" in various languages include horses and jewels, and pelts. Russian kunec
"merchant" comes from an Old Russian kuna
"money, a small coin," which literally means "martin skin."
A more recent group of words for "money" or "coin" derives from precious metals, notably silver (Greek argyros,
). Other "money" words originally were names of specific coins, such as Spanish dinero,
both from Vulgar Latin dinarius
) the name of a Roman silver coin originally worth ten aes
, and derived from deni,
the distributive adjective form of decem
The original Old English word for "money" was geld
, a word which also could be used for "payment, tribute, offering." This is the native noun form of the general Germanic word for "to pay" (cf. German geld,
Old High German gelt,
Old Norse gjald
). The reconstructed root is *gheldh-
, but this does not seem to exist anywhere outside Germanic. It is not related to gold,
however it survives in guild
The final step in the progression from cattle to precious metals to actual coins is represented by Greek nomisma
"coin" (the study of coins is called numismatics
, a word coined in French in 1579 from the Latin form of nomisma
); but originally nomisma
meant more broadly, "anything sanctioned by custom." In fact, the root of it is nomos
"custom, law." This important Greek word also forms the back half of anomie, autonomy, astronomy, economy
(literally "household management"), and Deuteronomy
According to this site,
the first appearance of what we recognize as coins took place in the 7th century B.C.E., probably in Lydia in Asia Minor.
But what of money
itself? It made its way into English from Latin, and originally it was the nickname of a goddess. Money
entered Middle English from Old French moneie
, which comes from Latin moneta
"mint, coinage." This is the same word as Moneta
, a title of the Roman goddess Juno.
The temple to Iuno Moneta
on the Capitoline Hill was vowed by M. Furius Camillus during the war with the Aurunci in 345 B.C.E. and dedicated on June 1 of the following year. It stood on the arx, on the site formerly occupied by the house of M. Manlius Capitolinus, and where the church of S. Maria Aracoeli and the Vittoriano now stands.
In late republican times a mint was established next to, or in, the Temple of Juno Moneta, conveniently close to the city treasury in the Temple of Saturn. The mint perhaps was established in 269 B.C.E. when the Romans introduced silver coinage.
Apparently the name of the temple got transfered to the name of what was made there -- money
But that still leaves the question of what moneta
originally meant in Latin. Linguists and historians aren't exactly sure. But they have a good guess.
Probably Camillus' temple replaced an earlier cult centre of Iuno Moneta. In fact, it's likely this was the site of the cult temple to which Plutarch refers when telling the tale of the geese who saved Rome in 390 B.C.
The story is set at the peak of the tumultuous years of the early 4th century B.C.E., when Celtic Gauls crossed the Alps and invaded Italy. A Celtic tribe, the Senones, under command of Brennus, pushed down through Etruscan lands and advanced on Rome. Eleven miles north of the city, the outnumbered Romans made a stand under A. Quintus Sulpicius (July 16, 390 B.C.E.) and were routed on the banks of the River Allia. Roman defenders fled to the Capitoline Hill to set up a last stand, while civilians streamed out the city gates to seek refuge in the countryside or cities further south. The Gauls flooded in, killing those who remained and looting and burning the city.
Attacks up the hill were repulsed, however, and the Gauls sat down to a siege. For seven months they remained. Open assaults on the Capitol all failed, but at least once the Gauls tried to scale the heights at night, by stealth. They might have succeeded, and history might be rewritten, but for the sacred geese kept on the grounds of the Temple of Juno. They detected the intruders and set up a clamor which awoke the defenders.
The Romans at last were able to bring Brennus to negotiation, and they bought peace and the departure of the Gauls for the stiff price of 1,000 pounds of gold. The final deal, as recorded by Livy, records one of the famous quotes of antiquity:
Quintus Sulpicius conferred with the Gallic chieftain Brennus and together they agreed upon the price, one thousand pounds' weight of gold. Insult was added to what was already sufficiently disgraceful, for the weights which the Gauls brought for weighing the metal were heavier than standard, and when the Roman commander objected, the insolent barbarian flung his sword into the scale, saying 'Vae Victis-- 'Woe to the vanquished!' "
One result of the Romans' harrowing near-disaster was that they reorganized their legions on practical lines and began the rise to military ascendancy.
seems to be from monere
"advise, warn." The specific aspect of Juno worshipped at that temple became "Juno of the Warning."
That at least is the most likely story. But other explanations also sometimes were given by Roman antiquarians for the epithet Moneta.
Cicero says it was derived from the warning voice of the goddess heard in the temple on the occasion of an earthquake, "ut sue plena procuratio fieret."
Suidas states that during the war with Tarentum the Romans, needing money, obtained it by following the advice of Juno; and that in gratitude they gave her the epithet Moneta and established the mint in her temple. That story would reverse the explanation, deriving the epithet from the "money" word.
Even the usual derivation of the word is open to question. Moneta
also could be derived from mons
"hill." Tucker suggests "there may be some connection with the moon." Both these are less satisfactory than the explanation from monere,
This old stonework, perhaps the only surviving depiction of the temple, certainly suggests the importance of the geese.
At some time between the reign of Vespasian and the early second century the Romans moved the mint to a new site on the Caelian Hill near the modern church of S. Clemente, and nothing further is heard of the Juno temple in Roman records. Excavations for modern structures at the site (such as the monument to Victor Emmanuel) have revealed no trace of it, and some archaeologists think it may lie under the transepts of S. Maria Aracoeli.
The Latin verb monere
"to admonish, warn, advise" is related to memini
"I remember, I am mindful of," and to mens
"mind." They all come from the Proto-Indo-European base *men-
"to think," which has yielded a prodigious number of modern words in Modern English, both via Latin and via the Germanic form of the root, expressed by Old English gemynd
"memory, thinking, intention."
is the root of money,
that makes money
a cousin of monument
(literally "something that reminds"), premonition
("a forewarning"), admonish
"to" + monere
"under" + monere
(" one who reminds, admonishes, or checks"), and monster
, from Latin monstrum
"monster, monstrosity, omen, portent, sign." Abnormal or prodigious animals were regarded as signs or omens of impending evil.
Outside Latin, monere
has relatives in Sanskrit matih
"sage, seer;" Greek memona
"I yearn," mania
"one who divines, prophet, seer;" and Russian pamjat
Americans, of course, measure their money in dollars,
which is a German word. To get more specific, it's a variant of the Low German form (daler
) of High German taler
Any way you spell it, it's an abbreviation of Joachimstaler,
which literally means "(gulden) of Joachimstal." This was the name of a coin minted in Germany first in 1519 from silver brought up from a mine opened in 1516 near Joachimstal,
a pretty town in the Erzgebirge Mountains in northwest Bohemia (modern Jáchymov
in the Czech Republic) named for Saint Joachim.
is cognate with English dale
The German thaler
(as it was spelled in the 16th century) was a large silver coin of varying value in the German states; it also was the name of a currency unit in Denmark and Sweden. English colonists in America used the word generically in reference to Spanish pieces of eight. On suggestion of Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson, Continental Congress adopted dollar
as a coin name when it set up the U.S. currency, because the term was widely known but not British.
The legislation establishing the dollar
became law on July 6, 1785, but no dollars were in circulation until 1794. The dollar sign ($) is said to derive from the image of the Pillars of Hercules, stamped with a scroll, on the Spanish piece of eight (below).
All this spending on war and relief has unbalanced the federal budget.
is literally a "little leather pouch," which is what the word first meant when it appeared in English in the early 15th century. It comes from Old French bougette,
a diminutive form of bouge
"leather bag, wallet," which comes in turn from Latin bulga
"leather bag," a word believed to be of Gaulish origin (cf. Old Irish bolg
"bag," Breton bolc'h
"flax pod"). The Romans picked up more than a few words from the Gauls, but probably fewer of them in the period of the Gaulish invasion of Italy, and more later, when Caesar's conquest of what is now France brought a large Gaulish population under Roman rule.
The modern financial meaning of budget
is recorded from 1733, and it preserves the notion of a treasury minister keeping his fiscal plans in a wallet.
is only attested in English from 1782, fwhich seems a surprisingly (to me) late date. Even in French, it only goes back to 1690. It is a pure Latin word, deficit,
literally meaning "it is wanting." This was an introductory word in clauses of inventory, from which it was extended to the modern sense.
The Latin is the third person singular present indicative of deficere
"to be deficient, to desert, fail," a compound of de-
"down, away" and facere
"to do, perform."
on the other hand has been around since the 13th century, from Old French dete,
from Latin debitam
"thing owed," the neuter past participle of debere
"to owe," originally, "keep something away from someone." This is a compound of de-
"to have." The -b-
was restored in the English word after c.1400 (The King James Version has detter
three times, debter
three times, debtor
twice and debtour
was one of the first words the Germanic peoples borrowed from Latin; it was in use as far back as the Old English period. (in forspendan
"use up"). Its source is Latin expendere
"to pay out, to weigh out money, pay down." This is a compound of ex-
"out" and pendere
"to pay, weigh," literally "to hang."
The image is of things (in this case, metals used as currency) measured for payment by weight (like the Roman tribute to the Gauls), and weighed by hanging from cords, perhaps in a scale pan.