Origin of words

On a daily basis we use such words as money, bank, banknote, etc. We also constantly encounter these words at the Money Museum, which presents the history of money and banking. But we probably do not reflect on the origin of some of these words. Here are the stories of some of the words we encounter in daily life and at the Money Museum.

  • Money (Lith. pinigai). You certainly use this word on a daily basis, but do you know that in Lithuanian money is pinigai, which comes from the German word Pfennig? We can still remember this word from the old German money that circulated before the euro (the small money was called Pfennig). The term itself has been known since as early as the 8th c. At that time, this small monetary unit was used in the territory of the Carolingian Empire, while later the term spread throughout Europe (e.g., the origin of the name for small money in Great Britain — pennies, penings in Sweden, fenigs in Poland, etc.). In the territory of Lithuania, this word has been found in written sources as early as in the 13th c., and has become a generic term. The origin of the word Pfennig itself is not entirely known, but most likely it is related to the ancient production technology of the coin, when coins used to be slightly curved and were reminiscent of a round frying-pan (Ger. Pfanne).
  • Coin. In the Dictionary of International Words this word is defined as a metal monetary unit (piece of money). The word derives from Latin and is directly related to the name of an Ancient Roman goddess — Juno. She was the patron goddess of many things (including the State Treasury), hence she had many names — one of them was ‘Moneta’ (advisor). The Temple of Juno (Moneta) stood in the city of Rome and since she, as mentioned before, was the patroness of the Treasury, minting of the first Roman coins began at this Temple (later in Rome, minting money at temples became a tradition). The word moneta became a generic one, and this is what metal money was called and is still called in many languages — Italian moneta, Spanish moneda, Russian mонета, German Münze, etc. However, in the English language, moneta is rather called ‘coin’, but still the words ‘money’ and ‘mint’ derive from this word.
  • Bank — a financial institution performing many money-related functions. What is the origin of this word? Perhaps ‘money’? ‘Gold’? Maybe ‘institution’? Actually, it derives from Italian banco, meaning… a bench or a table. The term comes from Renaissance Italy, originating with the Jewish money changers of Florence, who performed monetary operations on tables covered with a green tablecloth. This term eventually became the general name for the institution as a whole.
  • Bankruptcy. This word is also related to the origin of the word ‘bank’. It derived from an Italian word, to be more specific — from a combination of words. In Italy in the 16th c., money changers and people performing monetary operations worked on benches or tables. In those times there was a custom that when such a person ran out of money, their table would to be broken so that no more operations could be performed. In Italian, a broken table is banco rotta, and this combination of words gave rise to the international term ‘bankruptcy’.
  • Banknote. It is probably not difficult to understand that this word derived from two English words: ‘bank’ and ‘note’ — a bank’s note. Today, it is a monetary unit, produced from paper, thick cloth or plastic. The first paper money originated in the 9th c. in China, but the first modern banknotes began to be used in mid-17th c. England. London goldsmiths used to issue notes — cheques — to their depositors. Cheques were backed by valuables held in the banks of depositors. In the long run, such cheques became legal tender. The first central bank to issue paper banknotes was the Bank of Sweden (then called Stockholm Bank). Paper banknotes replaced very inconvenient copper plates, meant for settlement, weighing from a few to tens of kilograms. Interestingly, the first banknotes were actually notes, on which information was written by hand and signatures and seals were attached.
  • Capital. In Lithuanian — kapitalas — this word is derived from the English word ‘capital’ (main). However, this word has a deeper meaning. The word dates back to the time when people would barter with cattle, which were one of the major goods. The English word ‘capital’ derived from Latin caput, which means ‘head’ or, more specifically — the head of an animal. Hence, the more heads of animals you have (in other words, livestock or equivalent assets), the richer you are. Interestingly, the English word ‘cattle’ also derived from the same Latin word (and not vice versa). In ancient times in Western Europe, ‘cattle’ meant movable property (including livestock); the word caught on and is now used as a term. One more interesting fact: the word ‘capitalist’ is older than the word ‘capitalism’. The term ‘capitalism’ was first used in the 19th c., while the word ‘capitalist’ (a person who has accumulated certain assets) has been known since the 17th c.
  • Numismatics is the collection of coins and banknotes, an ancillary branch of the study of history. It explores coins, their archaeological complexes (hoards), history of coinage, circulation of money by coin, and things related to the production of coins (coinage dies, documents, etc.). This is the definition given by the Dictionary of International Words. But what is the actual meaning of this word? The word itself was first used in Western Europe in the 18th–19th c., while it derived from Latin nomisma, which means ‘a coin’. It is the Latinised Greek term νόμος (nomos) — ‘legal, common, customary’. This means that coins were common and legal tender.
  •  Budget. Presumptive calculation of the expected income and expenses of a state, institution, business or person for a certain period of time or someone’s estimate of income and expenses, or the plan for the use of time resources (Dictionary of International Words). The origin of this word is French. Bougette means ‘a leather bag’, and the origin of this word is Latin — bulga (a small bag, backpack). However, the economic term itself originated in England, as the word ‘budget’ here meant a bag, a purse and a similar item made of leather. In the 16th c. it could mean both the object itself and its content, while as of the 18th c. it also became an economic term. Even the exact date is known — 1733, although the author is unknown. A pamphlet, written by an anonymous author, scoffed at England’s Minister of Finance at the time. The pamphlet contains the phrase ‘The budget is opened’ (i.e. the purse; proposals were submitted). The word caught on and is today used as an economic term.