Tuesday, August 08, 2006

August 8: Dollars and Cents Day

Today is the anniversary of the Continental Congress' establishment of the monetary system of the United States. The year was 1786, and the ordinance called for U.S. coins with the following names: mill, cent, dime, dollar, and eagle.

According to Bill Bryson in Made in America, bankers and businessmen wished to maintain the English system based on pounds and shillings, But Thomas Jefferson devised a distinct new system based on dollars and cents.

The name dollar comes from a town in Bohemia called Joachimstal. A coin made there in the 1500s, the Joachimstaler, spead througout Europe evolving from the taler, to the thaler, to the daler, and finally into the dollar.

The name dime comes from the French dixieme which means tenth. It was originally spelled disme and pronounced as deem.

The name cent comes from the Latin centum which means one hundred. The unofficial name penny comes from the Latin term pannus which means "a piece of cloth"; at one time these pieces of cloth were used for money.

The name mill comes from the Latin millesimus which means thousandth. A mill would have represented 1/1000 of a dollar; however, the federal government never minted the mill coin. The lowest denomination of coin ever created was a 1/2 cent piece.

The eagle was a $10 coin.

The missing coin from the 1786 ordinance, common today, is the demomination that represents 1/20 of a dollar: the nickel, named for the metal from which is was made (nickels never were made of wood) (1).

Today's Challenge: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Dollars and cents are certainly important in America, so important that many expressions contain references to money, such as fast buck, more bang for the buck, and pass the buck. The term buck has been slang for dollar since the mid-1800s, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. See if you can find the English idioms that fit in the sentences below; they all have to do with dollars, dimes, or cents. The literal definition of each expression is also given as a clue.

1. A virtual certainty: It's _____ _____ _____ that the team will make the playoffs.

2. To be absolutely sure: You can _____ _____ _____ _____ that he will be at the party.

3. Unexpected good fortune. I didn't think I would get a $500 rebate on my new car. When I got the check, it was _____ _____ _____.

4. Stingy about small expenditures and extravagant with large ones. Dean clips all the coupons for supermarket bargains but insists on going to the best restaurants; he's ______ _____ _____ _____ _____.

5. So plentiful as to be valueless. Don't bother to buy one of these -- they're a _____ _____ _____.

6. To inform on or betray someone. No one can cheat in this class -- someone's bound to _____ _____ _____ and tell the teacher.

7. Take action and end delay. It's time this administration _____ _____ _____ _____ and came up with a viable budget (2)

Quote of the Day: There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either. ~Robert Graves

Answers: 1. dollars to doughnuts 2. bet your bottom dollar 3. pennies from heaven 4. penny wise and pound foolish 5. dime a dozen 6. drop a dime 7. got off the dime

1 - Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

2 - Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

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