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From `Money' to 'Notebandi', tracing the gradual enrichment of English vocabulary
'Notebandi' may soon become another jewel in the crown of Queen's English!

In the mid 50s, while browsing at the book shops on the footpaths around Flora Fountain, I chanced upon a paperback 'Word Power Made Easy' by Norman Lewis. While I picked it up out of curiosity, it changed my very basic conceptions about words and their use.

That this was no ordinary vocabulary building book, is borne by the fact that it is in print even today, since its first publication in 1949 and continues to be a bestseller. It taught me that the best way to enter the fascinating world of words is to know their origin. Get familiar with their roots, which could be from Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, etc. Once you know the meaning of a root, then all its derivatives in English become quite self evident. Secondly, it showed how the same word has been used with great effect by famous writers and orators.

Since the word 'demonetisation' is very much in usage these days, here are some random samples:

'Money' is a derivative of Latin word 'moneta', meaning value or money. Monetary, monetisation etc are its derivatives. Currency of Israel is Shekel. This usage is found in Bible, too. In Hebrew it meant 'weight' or something of 'value'. In same sense it is often used in English, where use of a different word other than 'money' will break the monotony of a long sentence.

In early agrarian societies, there was no concept of wide usage and acceptability of something of a value in form of coins or IOU sculpted on stones, etc. Then sacks of grains became accepted as a bearer of acknowledged value, and therefore useful for barter of services or products. It is speculated that the word 'shekel' may have relationship with 'sacks', too. In agro societies, cattle were a valuable commodity. Bartering with 'heads of cattle' was also very common. Rustling away cattle in the dead of night was a very common crime. The Latin word for cattle is 'pecu'. Hence the English word 'pecuniary' means financial and other property concerns. In Old English, 'peculiar' meant farm cattle or property. Some churches even today, use 'peculiar' when referring to property.

Throughout the ages, gold has been recognised as something in scant supply, and lasting in its value, which is universally accepted. But from time to time, some other commodity may assume great value, as it was scarce in the period. Apparently, during the great Roman Empire, salt (so vital for maintaining body's electrolytic balance) was not so easily available to the commoner. Roman soldiers were paid their wages in salt. The Latin word for salt is 'sal', hence payments to them were called 'salarium'. The English word 'salary' is derived from 'salarium'. Having heaps of salt became a matter of status, too. A soldier who excelled on the battlefield was 'worth his salt'. Today, indignantly we may say, 'this is below my salt' - that it is below my dignity!

Scarcity is also the mother of invention. I remember about the scarcity of so many commodities, during World War II. One of them was copper. So a Paisa made of copper was not only reduced in size, but it also had a hole in it. Gradually other metals also became scarce, resulting in serious shortage of coins in general. Those days it was possible to run our daily lives with coins only. I hardly saw notes in use, among us commoners. It was then, that different big shopkeepers and others started issuing printed IOUs of different denominations. We started using them, as we use notes today. During those difficult war days, the words 'IOU' and 'money' were used by us interchangeably.

In ancient India, promissory notes, called 'hundis' were widely circulating abroad, too. India was at that time one of the richest nations in the world. Traders and scholars from distant lands streamed into India. Those hundis had the same worldwide acceptability, which the US dollar has today. In my college days, it became fashionable to say 'dough' instead of ‘money’. 'Money' was too passe! Few years later, ‘dough’ was edged out by ‘bread’. If someone prospered, obviously he had a lot of ‘bread’’. Only, this 'bread' was in his bank and not in the kitchen, unless he had stacked away ‘black money’ in the kitchen loft! Those were days of hippies and flower children. I am not sure, what slang for money our youngsters use today.

Indians have recently created a new word for the lexicon – 'notebandi'. I see it being widely used even in foreign press. ‘Notebandi' may be voted as the most widely used word of 2016. It is sure to be in the list of new words to enter the Oxford English Dictionary, in its next edition! ‘Treasure of our Tongue’, a book on English language, by Lincoln Barnett has a full chapter, ‘Gift of the Indies’. It is about how India has enriched the English language. For instance, the very British ‘Mulligatawny Soup’, is our very humble Tamil – ‘'Milagu Thanni'’, pepper water! Our politicians are very fond of giving ‘clean chits’ to each other. These ‘chits’ are our ‘chitthies’ or letters! ‘Notebandi’ could also become another jewel in the crown of Queen’s English!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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