Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Dollar - The Origin of the Word and the Sign

A golden dollar sign


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[From early Flemish or Low German daler, from German T(h)aler, short for Joachimsthaler, a coin from the silver mine of Joachimsthal ( 'Joachim's valley'), now Jáchymov in the Czech Republic. The term was later applied to a coin used in the Spanish-American colonies, which was also widely used in the British North American colonies at the time of the American War of Independence, hence adopted as the name of the US monetary unit in the late 18th century.]

1 Historical. A German thaler;
any of various northern European coins bearing an equivalent name. M16

2 Historical. A Spanish or Spanish-American peso or piece of eight
(also largely used in the British N. American colonies at the time of the War of Independence). L16

3 The basic monetary unit of the United States, equal to 100 cents;
a basic monetary unit in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous other countries;
a note of coin of the value of one dollar. L18

4 A five-shilling piece, a crown. slang. obsolete. except Historical. E19

The dollar, the epitome of American capitalism and commercialism, has a surprisingly un-American origin. The word comes from the Low German daler, from the German thaler, itself an abbreviation of Joachimsthaler, which was a coin from the 1500s minted from the silver mine in Joachimsthal in Bohemia (now the Czech republic). 

English colonists in America used the word when referring to Spanish coins, and it was in such widespread use among British colonies at the time of the War of Independence that it was adopted as the official name of the US currency in the 18th century. Thus, from that obscure silver mine in Bohemia, the mighty dollar travelled westward to become the global icon of wealth and capitalism that it is today.

Talking of icons, where does the dollar sign ($) come from? There are a number of different theories, but the most plausible is that it evolved from the symbol for the Spanish American peso, or piece of eight, which was Ps. Gradually, the P and the S started to be written together, until it looked as it does today.

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