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Ka-ching – all you need is money

David Mamet once wrote “Everyone needs money – that’s why they call it money”, although he wrote this in a screenplay, and so the words were uttered by a fictional character. Even though this quote of Mamet’s is not overburdened with clarity, it is amusing, and serves as a useful reminder to look at some of the ways that money has infiltrated our vocabulary.

Money is one of the most pedestrian of words and concepts, something that we talk and think about every day. And as is so often the case with such familiar words and concepts, there is more to it than meets the eye. The word comes from the Latin moneta (meaning, unsurprisingly, money or mint), which itself comes from the name of a goddess in whose temple money was coined.

Money makes the world go round

Mamet’s contention that everyone calls it money notwithstanding, we seem to have taken on a wide variety of terms from an equally wide variety of languages in order to refer to money. The English language has accrued (mostly informal) words for money from Spanish (dinero), Persian (baksheesh), German (gelt), Romany (wonga), Hebrew (shekels), Yiddish (mazuma), and Italian (ducats), to name a few.

There are words for money based on substances that are ingested (bread, dough, kale), and things that should most definitely not be ingested (brass, silver, tin). Some of these words for money likely sound absurd to people who haven’t grown up using them (oof, splosh, and spondulicks come to mind) and then there are those which you could just file under miscellaneous (lucre, rock, dosh, and moolah).

If it wasn’t enough that money has weaseled its way into our language through a barrage of synonyms, it also is present in a number of words in a hidden fashion, via etymologies. Money is not just the root of all evil, it is also the root of such disparate words as era, bogus, and corollary. It serves as well as the foundation for talent (from the Latin talentum), for fellow (from Old Norse ), and chaebol (from a Korean word meaning ‘money clan’).

Show me the money

In addition to words which mean money in general, we have a myriad of words in English to describe particular amounts of money. Large amounts are covered in terms like big bikkies, motser, and bomb, while the fact of having lots of lucre is evident in loaded, deep pockets, and flush. Given these straitened times, it is oddly reassuring to know that there also plenty of words describing small amounts of money, such as peanuts, chicken feed, sou, and razoo, as well as the fact of having only chump change, as in boracic, broke, and skint.

On the money

So whether you are in the black or in the red, laughing all the way to the bank or feeling the pinch, cheese-paring or a spendthrift, breaking the bank, feathering your nest, or trying to get bang for your buck, there are an astonishingly large number of money-related terms to ensure you are never stuck for words.