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Hello,

This week I’m looking at money, currency to be precise. My local currency is the Euro and it wouldn’t take a genius to discover its link to the European Union. Other names of currencies, however, have more intriguing histories.

A selection from my coin box

Weight is at the core of many currency names. It’s easy to imagine early merchants using scales to assess the value of goods being traded and it certainly provides the origins of a surprising number of modern currencies.

The Mexican Peso is one example, its name means weight in Spanish. Turkish Lira and the Italian Lira (now replaced with Euro) come from the Latin word libra which means pound (a unit of weight). The pre-Euro Deutschmark in Germany and the Finnish Markka also took their names from units of weight. The British Pound (and the pre-Euro Irish Pound or Punt) came from the Latin word poundus, meaning weight. Other countries whose currency is a Pound include Egypt, Lebanon, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria.

The idea of currency as weight is involved in Rubles and Shekels too. Russia and Belarus use the Ruble as currency and it is named after a measure of weight for silver. The Shekel is a noun created from the verb shaqal, meaning to weigh, in ancient Hebrew. The Shekel was the chief silver coin and also a unit of weight.

Currencies aren’t all related to weight. Another way to lend legitimacy to your currency back in history was to link it to your monarchy.

Roman Coin (replica)

The Latin word regalis, meaning royal, is the origin for the Omani and Iranian Rials. Similarly, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen use a currency called the Riyal. Spain used Reals in the past too. The Scandinavian version of this concept is currencies named for the Latin word corona, which means crown. You get Sweden’s Krona, Norway’s Krone, Denmark’s Krone, Iceland’s Króna, the Estonian Kroon (now replaced by the Euro), and the Czech Republic’s Koruna. Readers of an older vintage may recall the crown and half-crown coins in British currency too.

If you’re not pinning your currency to the worth of your monarchy then you may choose to draw attention to valuable metals instead.

The Indian and Pakistani Rupee and the Indonesian Rupiah all come from the Sanskrit word rupya which means “wrought silver” while the Polish Zloty translates as “golden”. The South African Rand is inspired by gold too. Rand is a shortening of the Dutch name for the South African city Witwatersrand which is located in an area rich in gold deposits.

I was surprised to find the word Dollar has its roots in silver rather than gold. The Low German word joachimsthal means Joachim’s Valley where silver was once mined. Coins minted from that silver became joachimsthaler which shortened to thaler and ultimately to Dollar. It’s worth noting that Dollar is a currency for the USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Fiji, and New Zealand.

One exception to the weight, metal, and monarchy generalisations comes from Asia. The Chinese character 圓, meaning “round” or “round coin”, is responsible for the name of the Chinese Yuan, Japanese Yen, and the Korean Won.

My favourite currency origin is the Pula from Botswana. Pula means rain in Setswana. Rain is scarce in Botswana, — home to much of the Kalahari Desert, and therefore seen as a valuable blessing.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m sure I haven’t covered every currency in my exploration – if you know another interesting one, please drop a comment.

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