Monday, April 03, 2006

April 3: Almighty Dollar Day

Today is the birthday of American writer Washington Irving. He was the first American author to gain international acclaim and is know today for the memorable characters from his short stories, such as Ichabod Crane and Rip van Winkle.

Irving was the first writer to use the phrase "the almighty dollar" -- a phrase that stuck, characterising perfectly the American passion for capitalism. The phrase was first used in a short story called "The Creole Village," published in The Knickerbocker magazine in 1836:

The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages; and unless some of its missionaries penetrate there, and erect banking houses and other pious shrines, there is no knowing how long the inhabitants may remain in their present state of contented poverty.

The origin of the word used to designate the monetary unit for the United States is explained in Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English ( Stuart Berg Flexner and Anne H. Soukhanov. Oxford University Press, 1997):

Dollar comes from the German 't(h)aler,' an abbreviated form of 'Joachimstaler' (meaning "of the Saint Joachim Valley"), a silver coin first minted in Joachimstal, Bohemia, in 1519. This original 't(h)ahler' or 'da(h)ler' became such a common European coin that it became the general name for any large silver coin. By 1851, the English Spelling was 'dollar.'

The history of the English and Latin words on the one dollar bill is recounted Brian Burrell's book The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges that Have Shaped America (The Free Press, 1997). Certainly it would seem that these words would have meaning to everyone who carries around a greenback, but as Burrell explains, although the dollar is common it, it's words and symbols are enigmatic.

Here are just a sampling of the facts related to the dollar bill:

-The great seal on the back of the dollar bill displays three Latin mottos. The first is Annuit coeptis which means "He favors our undertaking." The second is Novus ordo seclorum which means "A new order of the ages." The third is the most familiar of the three: E pluribus unum which means "One, from many."

-The reverse side of the Great Seal, the side with the pyramid, was not displayed on the dollar bill until 1935.

-Two of the Latin mottoes were written by the Roman poet Virgil: Novus ordo seclorum and Annuit coeptis.

-The date written in Roman numberals at the base of the pyramid is 1776: MDCCLXXVI.

-The national motto of the United States is IN GOD WE TRUST. It became the national motto by an act of Congress in 1955, and it did not appear on U.S. currency until 1957.

-The words IN GOD WE TRUST come from Fancis Scott Key's national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, composed in 1814. The words appear in the seldom sung fourth verse: "and ths be our motto, in God is our trust."

Interestingly enough, money is the primary metaphor for describing the life of words. Words are born when they are coined. Words are the currency of communication, passed from person to person used and reused.

Today's Challenge: On the Money

The word money itself is used in many English idioms (common expressions that don't make sense when translated literally). Below are listed the literal definitions of various money idioms as explained in The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer (Houghton Mifflin 1997). The position of the word money is also indicated along with blanks that reveal the number of words in the expression.

1. More than enough money for what is required or expected.
Money ______ ______

2. Every minute is an important commodity of great value.
______ ______ money

3. Wealth has great influence.
Money ______

4. A silly or stupid person readily wastes his/her wealth.
______ ______ ______ ______ money ______ ______ ______

5. Back up one's opinion with action
______ ______ money ______ ______ ______ ______

6. Receive good value
______ ______ money's ______

1 Money to burn
2 Time is money
3 Money talks
4 A fool and his money are soon parted
5 Put your money where your mouth is
6 Get your money's worth

Quote of the Day: A sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. --Washington Irving

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