How the world’s currencies got their names

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From country to country, monetary units vary nearly as much as the cultures and languages that use them. But have you ever wondered why a dollar is called a “dollar”?

A recent post on the Oxford Dictionary’s OxfordWords blog explained the origins of the names of the world’s most common currencies. In the slides below, find out where these everyday words come from.

Dollar The dollar is the world’s most common currency, used in the US, Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, and Singapore and elsewhere. According to OxfordWords, the Flemish or Low German word “joachimsthal” referred to Joachim’s Valley, where silver was once mined. Coins minted from this mine became “joachimsthaler,” which was later shortened to “thaler” and which eventually morphed into “dollar.”

Peso “Peso” literally means “weight” in Spanish.

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Lira The Italian and Turkish “lira” come from the Latin word “libra,” meaning “pound.” Source: OxfordWords

Mark Before the euro, the Deutsche mark and the Finnish markka also draw their names from units of weight. Source: OxfordWords

Rial The Latin word “regalis,” meaning “royal,” is the origin for the Omani and Iranian “rial.” Similarly, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all use a currency called the “riyal.” Before the euro, Spain used “reals” as well. Source: OxfordWords

Rand Like the dollar, South Africa’s rand comes from the Dutch name for the South African city Witwatersrand, an area rich in gold. Source: OxfordWords

Chinese yuan, Japanese yen, and Korean won The Chinese character “圓,” meaning “round” or “round coin,” is responsible for the name of the Chinese yuan, Japanese yen, and Korean won. Source: OxfordWords

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Crown Many Scandinavian countries use a currency that derives from the Latin word “corona,” meaning “crown.” Sweden’s krona, Norway’s krone, Denmark’s krone, Iceland’s króna, and the Estonian kroon (now replaced by the euro), and the Czech Republic’s koruna all derive from the same Latin root. Source: OxfordWords

Dinar Jordan, Algeria, Serbia, and Kuwait all call their currency “dinar.” This is a pretty straightforward truncation of the Latin word “denarius,” which was a silver coin used in ancient Rome. Source: OxfordWords

Rupee The Sanskrit word for wrought silver is “rupya,” which lends its name to the Indian and Pakistani rupee, as well as Indonesia’s rupiah. Source: OxfordWords

Pound The British pound is derived from the Latin word “poundus” meaning “weight.” Egypt, Lebanon, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria call their currency pound. Source: OxfordWords

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Ruble Russia’s and Belarus’ ruble are named after a measure of weight for silver. Source: OxfordWords

Zloty “Zloty” is the Polish word for “golden.” Source: OxfordWords

Forint The Hungarian forint comes from the Italian word “fiorino,” a gold coin from Florence. The fiorino had a flower, or “fiore” in Italian, stamped on it. Source: OxfordWords

Ringgit When coins were minted in precious metals, thieves would shave off small portions of the metal to create new coins. To combat this, countries began minting coins with jagged edges. The Malaysian word for jagged is “ringgit,” the name of the currency. Source: OxfordWords

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