Home Columns Anantha Narayan On the money

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    The currency bomb has been dropped. And we can’t stop talking about it. The believers think that the Darth Vaders of black money have been caught with their masks down and the giant money laundering machine has been short circuited, while the doubters view it as an apocalyptic event engineered by Narendra Bin Thuglaq that has unleashed more pain than a tsunami, earthquake or famine.

    Obviously the truth lies somewhere in between. We’ll know the real results not in 50 days, but may be in 50 weeks when people on both sides grow a brain and see things as they are. Till then, all we can do is to queue up for change and improve our knowledge of money. A baby step in that direction is to figure out why a rupee is called a rupee and a dollar, a dollar.

    A good way to start is by browsing dusty history books and musty dictionaries. From what little I’ve gathered, the precious metal in which the currency was minted, played a big role in the naming.

    When Afghan Sher Shah Suri lorded over Delhi between 1540 and 1545 AD, he used three metals to serve as instruments of exchange. The Gold coins were called Mohur, the Silver coins were the Rupiya and the Copper ones were deemed as Dam. Incidentally, the phrase ‘I don’t give a damn’ may have its roots in the tiny copper coin. For those who know their languages, Rupiya is derived from ‘Raupya’, the Sanskrit word for silver and Mohar is Persian for seal.

    Even the Dollar’s story has a silver lining. It all began in 1520, when Bohemia minted coins from silver mined in St. Joachim’s Valley or Joachimsthal. The coins were referred to as Joachimsthaler or thaler for short. With time, the thaler became the dollar. Another currency with a silver connection is the Russian rouble. Rouble literally means to chop and is probably derived from the practice of chopping silver bars to create transactable money.

    The moolah from some other countries have interesting etymologies: the Polish zloty translates to ‘golden’; the Japanese yen is from the Chinese yuan which implies round object; the Arabic riyal is from the Spanish word for royal; the Chinese renminbi decodes to people’s currency; the Scandinavian krone is from the Latin Corona (crown); and the euro (the short form of Europe) was coined by a Belgian named Germain Pirlot in 1995. That was my two cents on money. Hope you’ll spend it wisely.

    Have anything noteworthy to share on currencies? Do talk to anantha@albertdali.com.

    -Anantha Narayan

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