The Obviousness of the Money Word
<< The fact is that when we take a common everyday English word like "money"
or "America" , we couldn't in a million years have guessed its real source if
it hadn't been clearly laid out for us. And that's why I believe -- with
words like "Bagaudae" -- one is really out there guessing.>>
<<Only if your knowledge is limited and you spend the million years
just sitting there and staring at the words. The connection between
<money> and <mint> may not be obvious to a monolingual English-
speaker, but if you happen to know Lat. mone:ta, it's hard not to
suspect a connection. In my first language the word for 'coin' is
<moneta> (from Latin, of course), so I associated that with <money>
before I started studying linguistics.>>
Well, if you connected "money" or "moneta" with the meaning of the Latin word
<moneta> > <monere>, of course, you would have apparently been dead wrong.
NOT in a million years would you have guessed how <money> is now thought to
be connected to <moneta>. If you were doing the same analysis that has been
applied to Bagaudae, you might have said -- Ah! coinage. <monere> means "to
remind, admonish, warn, instruct, prophesize." There's an OBVIOUS connection
between minting and money and monere. (Money is official, coinage is
replicated, money is sacred, counterfeiters were committing a sin against the
gods, etc., etc.)
But actually the connection between <monere> and "money" looks to be PURE
COINCIDENCE. One that we -- none of us -- could never have guessed without
Here's apparently the real connection:
Sacred birds are kept at numerous temples around Rome for the prophetic
reading of entrails and feeding of the priesthood. About 390 BC, some sacred
geese kept at a Temple of the goddess Juno warn the Romans during the Gallic
seige of 390 BC. Due to this episode, Juno is given the epithet (one of
many) "Moneta" -- the warner.
About 344 BC, L. Furius Camillus takes a vow during the war against the
Auruncii, pledging to build a temple to Juno in her role as a "Moneta".
Sometime during the Roman Republican era, a coin mintage is built next to the
temple -- "ad moneta" has been I believe attested in early reference to this
There are a number of coin mints around Rome, not necesssarily next to
temples, but this particular mint becomes a major one, and shares its name
with the neighboring temple. And the well-circulated coinage from the mint
took its name from its source.
And the word "money" is born. It could just as easily been called
The phonetic connection between <money> and <moneta> -- if it had been
unrecorded and preliterate -- would have completely MISLED us as to the
original meaning of money and how the sounds came to be shared. There
appears to be no substantive connection. Just as there may be no substantive
connection between, for example, Geats and Go:te -- even though the words
show phonetic relation. Prehistory hides such stuff from us.
What is the probability of such random associations? No one knows because we
can't verify the pre-literate. But in literate times we know that they are
very common. But no scientific probablities have been done to my knowledge
-- a prerequisite I would think to any firm statements about how likely these
"non-genetic" associations are.
I don't doubt that the comparative method is a powerful tool in tracing
history, but it has limitations like any tool. Piotr speaks of "limited
knowledge" and it is probably wise to remember how limited that knowledge may
be -- for all of us.
PIOTR ALSO WROTE:
<<In my first language the word for 'coin' is <moneta> (from Latin, of
course), so I associated that with <money> before I started studying
But not in a million years would linguistics have eventually told you what
the real connection was. Anymore than it would have told you that America
was named after a 15th Century Italian sailor if all this had happened in
pre-literate times and if written history had not helped out. I've always
thought that "Vespucciland" has a certain ring to it. Like a well-minted