There's a public house (a place where you can sit and have a drink and also have a meal) in a small village in the east of Britain where the locals really like their beer. Sometimes of course with rising costs they're hard pushed to find the money to buy themselves their favourite drink But they're a resourceful lot in this Norfolk village. They've decided to go back into the deep and distant past and revive the old custom of bartering. This is the way things used to be 'paid for' in the old days.
In other words you offer one thing in exchange for something you want. In this pub (public house) villagers turn up with say, a dozen eggs and in return they get themselves a pint of beer. The chef is happy and the customer enjoys his drink. So if you see old Charlie trundling along the road up to the pub with a wheelbarrow full of vegetables, fruit, dead rabbits and mushrooms, you know he's come for a lengthy drinking session. I suppose if the old chap simply can't quench his thirst, he probably leaves the wheelbarrow as well!
Of course it was the Chinese who really got things started as far as actual money was concerned when the rest of us were still running around with boxes of eggs and handfuls of carrots if we wanted to acquire something we didn't have. In 700 BC they started making coins, not just any old coins, but ones made of precious metal. The value of the coin was in the metal and so what you held in your hand was worth what it said on the coin. Mind you, when it came to large purchases, I really can't think of what it would be in that stage of human history. Let's say it was a farm. Well, you couldn't very well stagger up to the farm vendor with a sack of coins for the chances are that you might arrive at the farm gate thoroughly exhausted and find the farmer had gone out for the day. But all future entrepreneurs who wanted to shell out 'big money' had to wait a few hundred years before buying things like farms and other property became easier. And again it was the Chinese who came up with the idea of 'paper' money in 118 BC. It wasn't only the weight of the coins that brought this about but simply because there wasn't enough metal to go round. We have to fast forward a long time to find the first use of paper money in the UK.
The 'note' as it was called (and of course we still talk about a £5/£10/ £20 note) was in a way a sort of receipt given for that amount in gold deposited in the bank. The nightmare comes of course when people turn up at the bank with a fistful of paper notes and ask for the equivalent in gold. That's when the panic starts because the whole capitalist system relies on the basis of trust and confidence. And most of the capitalist world is now experiencing those sorts of problems. Turn on any radio or television nowadays and the only talk on the news is about money. Words that popped up now and again in the past are now heard every five minutes. 'Credit crunch' isn't unfortunately a word to describe some tasty new biscuit but is now used to describe the inability to borrow money. 'Recession' doesn't describe going backwards but the current state of affairs where people lose their jobs and industry stops producing things. 'Downturn' isn't referring to what you do on the ski slope but means roughly the same as recession. And 'toxic debts' isn't something you put in the garden to kill the weeds but money that is owed and isn't going to be paid back. And of course it all comes down to money, like they say in the ABBA's lyrics:
Money, money, money, Must be funny, In a rich man's world
Money, money, money, Always sunny, It's a rich man's world
Aha-ahaaa - All the things I could do
If I had a little money, It's a rich man's world
But then this isn't meant to be a newsletter about economics but about language and that five letter word, money is used in several expressions. Many of its appearances crop up when talking of large amounts of it. Money talks we say when we want to suggest that people with a lot of it have a great influence on the rest of us. In fact if someone is extremely rich they can be described as being made of money or even more figuratively rolling in money. What a picture that conjures up! And if your business is thriving you are said to be making money hand over fist. There are a lucky few at the moment who are doing just that. On a more modest scale if you are earning a little extra to supplement your income, you are said to be making pin money. Then there are those who waste this precious commodity and those who are short of it, look scornfully on and tut-tut disapprovingly as they proclaim: Oh, he's got money to burn.
And this theme is taken up to describe a situation when someone doesn't know what to do with their money but they are longing to spend it and in that case money is burning a hole in their pocket. If you get paid a lot for doing something very easy and you aren't doing much work for it, you could describe this as earning money for jam or even more strangely, for old rope. As with many expressions the origin is obscure but apparently jam was readily available to soldiers during the First World War and the hangman was allowed to keep the rope after he'd executed his 'client.' Perhaps it's appropriate to end this money ramble with two cautionary comments. Put your money where your mouth is, I hasten to add, doesn't mean you have to eat the stuff! It's a piece of advice suggesting that if you really want to support a scheme or make a proposal, then be prepared to back it up with your own money. And when you want to remind someone (often when speaking to younger members of your family) that money has to be earned and you can't always have everything you want, you come out with this wonderful statement: Money, you say in your most serious voice, just doesn't grow on trees.
And finally back to bartering. Now if I asked you to offer me something for my newsletter and of course it won't cost you a penny, what would you suggest? A cup of tea perhaps? Yes? Well if you do, I'll say 'cheers' to that.
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