Bushwhacked: It boils down to bags of cash

IF we were to speak ancient Greek, apart from ordering more dolmades and some lovely ouzo, we would be more familiar with etymos and logia: the study of the true sense of things.

It gives us the word: etymology. And it’s a part of modern language I just love because I often feel that there is more truth in some words than we realise.

Sophisticated for example. We like to think it’s a good thing to be sophisticated, but the truth lies in the word’s origins: corrupted by added elements, deluded by sophistry, or clever but false reasoning. It actually means someone is pretty slick but sly.

And now – at last – we come to the point. It’s been Budget week at the state level this week and at the federal level pretty soon, and I bet you’ve been super-gluing your buttocks to the sofa in case you missed a moment of it. But I got to wondering about that word budget. It’s such an odd sounding word. In Australia it tends to remind us of either colourful little parrots or challengingly small men’s swimming apparel.

I found that its use in terms of government financial arrangements, is more logical than you might guess. It is from an early 15th century French word bougette for a small leather pouch. It, in turn, comes from the Latin bulga for a leather bag.

In modern times, it referred to the leather bag or wallet in which government members kept the financial plans.

So “handing down the budget” actually means handing down a leather bag full of documents. The Treasurer was the keeper of the thesauros, ancient Greek for store house (and thus thesaurus as a store house of words).  So, what we have in Australia now is chaps who are in charge of the store, handing down the details of what’s in the leather bag. And somehow, that seems to make more sense than a lot of the alleged commentary and analysis of late.

It all helps us understand the fiscal world.

Err, fiscal. Fiscal? Let’s see. In Latin, it was fiscalis for anything belonging to the state treasury, but before that it came from fiscus referring to a purse or basket made from twigs. It’s related to figs.

Isn’t it odd how it’s all to do with purses and wallets holding money or plans of what to do with money? Even the word “purse” comes from a word to describe a leather wallet or bag. It’s where we also get “bursar”.

Who would ever have guessed that today’s politics is all about bagmen and bags of cash? The sense-in-origin philosophy could also be applied to “surplus”, from the Medieval Latin superplus, or bits left over. And “deficit” from the Latin word meaning “it is wanting.”

“Wanting, wanting, but not getting” as an old Fiji mate once put it to me in another context entirely. But he could just as well have been talking about budgets.

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