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Lexicon and Terminology:
Posted on Thursday, October 11 @ 04:54:37 EDT
Topic: Terminology

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Of Mesopotamia, cattle and interest (en anglais)

Pecuniary, adj
1. of, concerning, or consisting of, money (pecuniary considerations; pecuniary aid)

2. (of an offence) entailing a money penalty or fine

Origin: Latin pecunarius f. pecunia money f. pecu cattle

Pecuniary and impecunious (English), and pécuniaire, pécune and pécule (French) are just a few of the terms relating to money that can be traced back to a period when livestock was the standard currency. This is hardly surprising since financial activities, i.e. lending, borrowing and managing wealth, are thought to have originated among the pastoral societies of the Near East.

The earliest archaeological traces of financial activity date back to the Sumerians, a people that inhabited the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates between 4,000 and 3,000 BC. Linguistic evidence suggests that some financial concepts, such as interest, derived from the use of livestock as a medium of exchange. Livestock multiply, therefore the herd owner's wealth increases in line with the rate of reproduction of his animals. The idea that wealth should "beget" wealth was therefore natural and could be applied to other units of exchange, commodities or symbols of wealth. Whatever the case, the concept of interest developed rapidly in Mesopotamia. In Hammurabi's reign (roughly 1792-1750 BC), students were being asked to calculate the number of years it would take for one mina of silver, growing at 20% a year, to reach 64 minae.
The words used for interest in many languages appear to confirm its pastoral origins. In Sumerian, the same word was used to designate calves and interest. Tokos, the ancient Greek word for interest, also refers to the offspring of livestock while the Egyptian word for interest ms means "to give birth".

The relationship between interest and livestock has not been handed down linguistically in English (interest) or French (intérêt). Both words come from the low latin interesse, which first appeared in 8th century documents, meaning of "profit on money or goods lent or due".

Since then, "interest" has acquired a variety of other meanings and uses, which are listed below.

interest n. & v.

— n.
1. a concern; curiosity (have no interest in fishing). b a quality exciting curiosity or holding the attention (this magazine lacks interest).
2. a subject, hobby, etc., in which one is concerned (his interests are gardening and sport).
3. advantage or profit, esp. when financial (it is in your interest to go; look after your own interests).
4. money paid for the use of money lent, or for not requiring the repayment of a debt.
5. (usu. foll. by in) a a financial stake (in an undertaking etc.). b a legal concern, title, or right (in property).
6. a a party or group having a common interest (the brewing interest). b a principle in which a party or group is concerned.
7. the selfish pursuit of one's own welfare, self-interest.

— v.tr.
1. excite the curiosity or attention of (your story interests me greatly).
2. (usu. foll. by in) cause (a person) to take a personal interest or share (can I interest you in a holiday abroad?).
3. (as interested adj.) having a private interest; not impartial or disinterested (an interested party).
at interest (of money borrowed) on the condition that interest is payable.
declare an (or one's) interest make known one's financial etc. interests in an undertaking before it is discussed.
in the interest (or interests) of as something that is advantageous to.
lose interest become bored or boring.
with interest with increased force etc. (returned the blow with interest).

Language article reprinted with permission of


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