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Origins of Money

Origins of Money June 23, 2009

By way of introduction, my step-brother about a decade or so ago joined some friends at a small translation company.  Since that time, that company has internationalized web sites and documents for many companies worldwide, including a number of technology companies in northwest United States.  He has decided to start a newsletter on language and culture.  Since I know many of you have interests in foreign languages or the origins of words, I thought I would share it with you.  And besides, throwing a bone to family seems only proper for a person writing on a moderately successful web site.

I think he hits about 15 languages in his opening salvo.  A brief excerpt from his opening letter:

When we look at the Latin word for money, “pecunia”, which derives from “pecus” (“cattle”), an earlier value system comes into focus. The cow as a core unit of value is revealed in the English word “fee” (from the Old English “feoh” meaning “cattle, property, money”). Interestingly, the word “capital”, which appears in many European languages, and word “cattle” itself do not come to us from early words for the cow. Both are from the Latin “capitalis”, which means “principal”. Meanwhile, in Welsh the word “da”, which is generally used as an adjective meaning “good”, can be used as a noun to refer to “cattle” and “goods”.

The cow is not the only animal to find its way into our monetary lexicon. The root of the Russian word for money, “деньги” (“den’gi”), and the Turkmen equivalent of the penny, “tenge”, is the Turkic “tän’gä”, which literally meant “a squirrel’s fur”.


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