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The History Of Business Words. Part 4

Credit

The other day I heard a man say of an old customer, "I feel sure that B --- will never sacrifice his credit. That is a part of my creed."

Unconsciously he had used two words from the same root. Credit and creed are both from Latin credere, to believe. In business, credit is trust given, or it is such a reputation as entitles a man to be trusted. To give credit is to show belief in a man. I fancy that the credit man uses the phrase I believe many times a day, almost as if he were saying a creed. I believe that you are good for this amount. I believe that we can't give him any more time - such are the beliefs of the credit man.

We have a considerable number of allied words: creditor, creditable, discreditable, credible, incredible, credulous, incredulous, credulity, incredulity, credence, credentials. The thought of believing runs through them all, taking on different shades of meaning in different situations: Creditor, one who has believed you, trusted you; creditable, fitted to produce belief; credible, fitted to be believed, believable; credulous, too ready to believe; credentials, papers that secure belief.

Currency

That which is in circulation as a medium of exchange. Latin currentia, a current, from Latin currere, to run. Here is a good illustration of the "anthropomorphic" nature of language. Animals run, and men treat rivers as if they were animals. Currere gives us many other words, none more striking than occur, which means to run up against. A single sentence may hold many specializations of one root; for example: "It occurs to me that our party will incur popular disapproval if the current of the currency is checked and a panic should occur."

Damask

1. Linen so woven that a pattern is made by the different directions of the thread. 2. A deep rose color. Both of these meanings are derived from the city of Damascus, the home of linen-weaving and of the Damascus rose.

Dollar

The name of the coin is from German thaler, from thai, a valley. The first dollars were coined in St. Joachim valley, Bohemia, about the year 1518.

Emolument

Profit from office, employment, or labor. Latin emolumentum, which means both profit and exertion, as if the two things were synonymous. The word goes still farther back, either to emolere, to grind - in which case it fits our modern slang - or to emoliri, to set one's self in motion, which is a dignified way of saying, Get a move on.

Finance

The management of money or of monetary affairs, especially those involving large sums. The root of this word is Latin finis, the end, and the great point of it is that payment is the proper end of a financial operation. Once more the goddess of history indulges in an ironical smile, for the larger our financial operations the more danger that the due end will not be reached. But surely there is a sufficiently practical ideal in the word for financiers.

Fiscal

Pertaining to financial matters, and especially to the public treasury or revenue. This is from Latin fiscus, a basket. Baskets were used by the Romans for holding money.

Focus

A point at which rays meet after being reflected or refracted. Not a business term? There is no scientific term which business will not use if it finds it profitable. A sales manager tells his men to focus their efforts on such and such a territory or such and such a line of goods. The word is Latin, and means a hearth. At the hearth all the family meet. Have you never sat with a group all of whom were focusing their vision reflectively on the open fire?

Fortune

Once more we have ages of irony concentrated in a word. A fortune is a vast sum of money got together by good fortune - fortuna. There is always an element of chance both in acquiring and in keeping a fortune. Warner's novel "That Fortune" is a good commentary on the word.

Generous

Liberal; open-handed. This comes through French from Latin generosus, which originally meant of noble birth. Generosity is the mark of breeding. In old families money is spent more freely than in new families - though the second generation in America can compete in a certain kind of liberality, not exactly the best, with the oldest stock of Europe.

Gratis

For nothing; without recompense. But the Latin word, gratiis, is more courteous. It means, for thanks only. Gra-zie is still the word used in Italy for Thank yon.

Grocer

A dealer in tea, sugar, spices, and other foodstuff Today we usually think of a retailer when we hear this word; We often think of him - with pain - as the retailer par excellence. But the word originally meant a wholesaler, one who sells by the gross. Times have changed.

Guarantee

See warranty.

Guinea

The coin was first struck out of gold from Guinea where slaves and gold were bought.

Hermetically Sealed. Made perfectly air-tight by fusion. The word goes back to the famous Egyptian alchemist, Hermes Trismegistus, whose teachings were the very depth of secrecy, A hermetic seal is - so to speak - a secret masonic seal. But a Mason jar - well, that is something else; and it isn't by any means hermetically sealed.

Indenture

A mutual agreement in writing. Indentures were executed in duplicate, the parts being indented by a notched cut or line to make them correspond. Indented is from Latin through French, and means bitten into. The dent is from the Latin (and indeed the Greek) word for tooth, and survives in dentistry.

Interest

A right or share in a thing. The price or rate of, premium per unit of time that is paid by a borrower for the use of what he borrows. This is from Latin through French, and goes back to interesse, to be between. To be between is to make a difference, to be of importance. No word has a subtler bearing upon psychology or upon business. That interests us which makes a difference to us. A salesman cannot interest a buyer unless he can show that his goods or his terms make an advantageous difference to the buyer. Interest on money certainly makes all the difference with the lender. He has no interest in lending to a stranger without interest.


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