Saturday, December 17, 2005

Old money

There is no concrete record of the world’s first commercial transaction, but going by the etymology of words in the register of business, commerce must be as ancient as mankind. For instance, the word ‘bank’ goes back a long way. The earliest bankers were the priests of ancient Babylon who operated from the temple itself. When the Egyptians gave this duty to non-priests, business was conducted from a bench in the courtyard of the temple. The Old Italian word for bench is banca and English borrowed this word as ‘bank’. The Latin ending ‘-rupt’ or ‘broken’ leads to bankrupt or, ‘the one whose bench is broken’.

The word ‘money’ stretches back to ancient Rome for its origin where Juno Regina, queen of the heavens, was the wife of Jupiter. A temple was built to honour her on the Capitoline Hill. When coins were created, the Romans set up their mint at the temple, under her guardianship. She’s called by another name, Moneta, derived from the Latin word moneo or ‘warn’. This later reached French as moneie to eventually become ‘money’.

Anyone who has enough money is said to have ‘made his pile’, an expression that echoes the word ‘accumulate’. ‘Accumulate’, from the Latin word accumulatus, is made up of ad or ‘to’ and cumulus or ‘heap’. So, when you accumulate a lot of money, you add to your heap!

Next time you complain that your budget is just a tiny pouch, just think of the etymology. For, budget comes from the Latin bulga or ‘leather bag’. In the Middle Ages, the merchants of France carried their money around in a bougette or ‘little bag’, derived from the Latin bulga, so, a peep into the bougette would reveal the budget, as we call it today. The word ‘company’ also holds another romantic story. Company corresponds to companion, that in turn is derived from the Latin words cum or ‘with’ and panis or ‘bread’. A companion shares your bread and when you are in company, you do the same. With materialism taking over, the bread became pure ‘dough’, leaving behind the friendship part.