Word for Wednesday: Coin

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For centuries, coins have been used for trade and coins as legal tender have been standardized by governments across the world. Modern coins and banknotes have little to no inherent value or use – we have ‘attributed’ value to these coins and notes to create a standardized money system, the problem with this is that this ‘invented’ currency can fluctuate in value and even lose its value altogether.

This has not always been the case, however. Before everything became so readily available, the various items used as tender actually had inherent value and/or uses.

In other words, throughout history we have used some pretty crazy things as coins. Such coins range from the logical (gold, silver, copper) to the frankly impractical (cows, animal skins, large rocks). Imagine buying a pint of milk with a boulder!?

It seems that people were looking more for functionality than practicality, they would literally ‘trade’ their items – perhaps the pace of modern life requires a quicker and more convenient tender. Still, part of me wishes I could pay for my next pint with a handful of shells.

The word ‘coin’ comes from the Latin ‘cuneus’ meaning wedge and later the Old French ‘coing’ with the same meaning. Allegedly the association with money comes from the wedge-shaped piece of metal used to stamp the coins – this processes is known as ‘coining’. Thus the term coining was coined!

So why do we ‘coin’ a phrase?

To hazard a guess, to coin a phrase might mean to stamp or mark it as a popular phrase with its origin being the ‘coining’ or ‘stamping’ process. Some of the most prolific sources of coined phrases are the works of Shakespeare; do ‘a sorry sight’, ‘be all and end all’ or ‘woe is me’ sound familiar? It’s not to say these phrases weren’t used before Shakespeare, just that he put them into his work and I daresay they were spoken (or read) far more after that.

Despite my apparent lack of them, coins can be wonderfully and intricately designed. Why not tweet us your favourite coin designs or coined phrases we’d love to see/hear them!

Hugh MacDermott

11 Sep 2013
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