We throw around a lot of slang for money – lettuce, dough, clams, moola, smackers – pretty much any noun works in the right context, but the seemingly mundane words have the most interesting histories behind them.
Can you guess the words based on their origins? Let’s find out! Scroll carefully to hide the answers until you’ve had some time to ponder.
In ancient Rome, the temple of Juno Moneta sat in the center of the city. The goddess Juno Moneta was the protectress of funds, and her temple was used to worship her, but it also had space dedicated to storing electoral records and minting coins (because she would keep them safe, obviously – who better than a god to keep watch over the coin of the citadel). The word “mint” is derived from her name, but so is the most basic word we use for currency:
Speaking of minting, the wedge-shaped tool for stamping metal, a cuneus in Latin, also gave us one of our most common words for our currency:
While we’re in Rome, here’s another. In the early years of banking, Italians who lent, exchanged, and stored money for the public did their business from benches in the marketplace. If said Italian banker ran out of money, his bench was broken. Now, we all know that the Italian word for “broken bench” is banca rotta, so naturally this word became:
Latin gave us a wealth of money-related words, even caput, the word for cow, became a word for legal tender:
Animals were often used for bartering before we had currency. In America, traders used elk and other livestock in exchange for other goods, giving us:
While we’re on livestock, here’s a more obscure one. Admit it, these have been pretty easy so far. Well, in medieval England, a clay substance called pygg was used to craft jars and dishes that people used to keep money in their homes. They weren’t shaped like animals then, but that clay gave them their eventual shape. Name that container!
We’ve covered Western Europe already, but an ancient civilization farther east brought us this next one. The ancient Chinese carried their coins in bundles on strings called caixa, which they got from trade with the Portugese. Given that caixa is pronounced “cash-a,” what’s the word?
Cash, of course.
Now here’s a tricky one. In Germany, there was a silver mine near a town called Joachimstaler. But who can say that? The Germans shortened this town’s name to call those silver bits taler. Do you have it yet? Taler eventually became…
How did you do?
While many of the terms we use for money today – Benjamins, fivers, cabbage – are more obvious, it takes a true combination of history buff and word nerd to get to the bottom of the words we use without a second thought.
Here’s one for the road: If you’ve ever stiffed the early Danes on their poll taxes and suffered the consequences, then you’ve “paid through the nose.” Have fun Googling that one….