Monday, 15 August 2011

The Euro

The euro was hardly the most imaginative name for the single European currency, although with numerous languages to take into consideration it was inevitable ever since the concept was first suggested. Despite the obvious name for the currency, it is believed the official suggestion was made in a letter to the then President of the Euopean Commission, Jacques Santer, in August 1995. That letter was written by one Germain Pirlot, a Belgian teacher of French and history.

To date the euro has replaced the national currencies of no less than twenty countries since its official debut on January 1st 1999. I was soon researching the origins of the names of those early currencies, some of which had been in existence for centuries.

The franc was common to Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and Monaco. This can be traced back to the earliest gold coins and the legend Francorum Rex 'king of the Franks'.

Similarly the lira was legal tender in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino and Malta. This word is derived from liura and ultimately from Latin libra or 'pound'. This also led to the British pound and the Irish pound or punt, and the pound of Cyprus, the latter two also replaced by the euro.

In Estonia they used the kroon, the Slovaks the koruna. Both have identical origins in meaning 'crown', for this is the image on the money. The same origin is shared by the Swedish krona, the Icelandic krona, the Danish krone, and the Danish krone.

The Portuguese escudo derives its name from the Latin scutum or 'shield'.

In Spain the peseta came from a Catalan word peceta, which is not hard to see as a 'small piece'.

The German Mark is easily seen as sharing an origin with the Finnish markka. Here an Old English or Saxon word marc is related to the Proto-German marko and all refer to 'precious metal'. To some degree the Dutch guilder has a similar meaning, the Middle Dutch adjective gulden is the basis for guilder and means 'golden'.

The Slovenian tolar comes from the former European silver coin the thaler, an abbreviation of Joachimsthaler and telling us it was first minted in Bohemia. Here thal means 'valley' and thaler 'thing or person from the valley'. This has also given us the monetary term 'dollar'.

In Greece the drachma has been used, on and off, since ancient times. The term is ultimately from the ancient Green verb drassomai meaning 'to grasp' and evolved to mean 'fistful'.

Austrians had the schilling, introduced as recently as 1924 to replace the corona. For those who remember pounds, shillings and pence it is obvious this is related to the British shilling, a monetary value which had existed since Saxon times. Indeed it is from this ancient Germanic tongue from which the term is derived. To the Saxons a scilling was an accounting term deemed to be equal to the value of a sheep anywhere in England outside of Kent, where the scilling was the value of a cow.

Being old enough to remember when European countries had their own coinage it must be said the introduction of the euro has taken away the delight of seeing fellow Brits struggling with the mental conversion to sterling when abroad. Not to mention watching them closely scrutinise every note and coin to discover its value. Priceless!

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