Money is often taken for granted, even though it is used every day and facilitates much of the activities that occur around the world. But there is more to this medium of exchange than meets the eye. Canadian mint coins and paper currencies, for example, all fall under the umbrella name Canadian dollar. Have you ever wondered how the term ‘dollar’ came into being though? To find the answer, you’d have to take a journey through the disciplines of etymology and history
Money Through the Ages
Before money became a tool for making purchases, people engaged in a system called barter. This was basically an exchange system in which two items were swapped. But in order for barter to be successful, there had to be an agreement that the two items were worth exchanging. As you can imagine, this was a very complicated process and so over time items such as cowrie shells, beads, trinkets and precious substance such as gold started to be used as money. Over time each nation developed its own representation of currency (a combination of paper notes and coins.)
The Origin and Development of the Word ‘Dollar’
But when did people start using the word ‘dollar’? The word dollar has a rich history. It started out in Bohemia as the word Joachimsthaler, given to the first set of coins minted in Joachimsthal in 1519. The word was shortened to ‘thaler’. Thalers were uniformed pieces of currency as they all had the same weight shape and design. The craft of minting spread and soon other nations (Spain and Portugal among others) were making their own coins. Other German speakers used the low form ‘daler’.
The English speakers applied the word to all coins regardless of the origin and pronounced it dollar. As English grew and dominated the world as a language, this pronunciation and spelling spread around the world to non-English speakers. Today the US uses the word dollar instead of pounds because during colonial days, due to a shortage in British coins, other coins specifically those of Spanish origin were used to fill the gap.
Its use has been traced back to the 1770s where it emerges in documents showing business relations between Spanish and American entrepreneurs. In 1792, the Americans formalized the use of the dollar (abandoning the pound used by their colonial predecessors) as they made the US dollar their official currency (with each dollar being subdivided into smaller units represented as 100 cents). Later on, in the 1800s it is seen on a larger scale in print form on American documents reinforcing the switch in the currency’s name.
Following suit, Canadians adopted the use of the dollar from the Americans with whom they did extensive trading. Today, there is a pound symbol and a euro symbol among others, but the most popular term for national currencies is dollar. Some examples are; the Canadian dollar, the US dollar, the Australian dollar, and the Bermudian dollar.
The Origin of the Dollar Symbol
The dollar sign ($) also has a rich history. Some claim that it is a modification of the numeral 8 making reference to the Spanish pieces of eight. Another theory suggests that the symbol is related to the ‘S” in the name the US which precedes the word dollar in ‘US dollar’. But historians have found that it is actually a derivative of the handwritten version of ‘ps‘ which is an abbreviation for Mexican peso. This resulted from an adjustment which saw the stroke from the ‘P’ being maintained and the ‘S’ being enlarged and superimposed upon it.
These changes and developments reveal that in addition to being the foundation upon which our economies are built, the dollar and its symbol have taken quite an eventful journey through time to get to us in the modern world.