The dollar is a unit of currency not just in the United States, but in Canada and Australia, among other nations. American writer Washington Irving coined the term “the almighty dollar” in the 19th century. Now, the American dollar is one of the most powerful currencies in the world. But where do we get the word?
In the Middle Ages, the region of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) was renowned for its silver mines. These mines provided rich material for coins. In 1520, silver from the mine in Jachymov (“Joachimsthal”, in German) began to be used for minting Czech coins. These coins were known as “joachimsthaler”, which was gradually shortened to “thaler”. Since, in most European languages, the letters “t” and “h” do not form the familiar “th” sound to English speakers, the word was pronounced “taller”. The word was adopted by many languages, including, of course, English.
In Scotland during the 16th and 17th centuries, coins known as “thistle dollars” were commonly used. The plays of Shakespeare, including Macbeth, make use of the word “dollar” in reference to a form of money. Early in the 19th century, the British five-shilling piece was also known as a dollar. In this case, it really was; the British had captured a treasure trove of “Spanish dollars” during the Napoleonic Wars, and these coins were re-minted as the five-shilling piece.
During the heyday of the Jachymov silver mine, Spanish pesos were commonly referred to as “Spanish dollars”, as they had a similar shape and weight. These coins were commonly used in the American colonies (some of which belonged to Spain both before and after the American Revolution). The British colonies used the British pound; in 1785, after the colonies gained independence from Britain, the “Spanish dollar” was adopted as the legal currency. The “Spanish dollar” was written often as “ps”, and as time passed, the “p” and the “s” were written as one symbol. This gave us the now-familiar dollar symbol: $.
The Hussite Wars of the 15th century gave rise to two words commonly used in English today. The first is pist’ala, used to describe a firearm that was, at that time, very new and had not been used in battle before. It made its way into the English language as pistol. The second word is houfnice, which meant a type of catapult. It is more familiar to English speakers as howitzer.
In the 1920s, popular Czech playwright Karel Capek wrote a play titled RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots. This play introduced a word not only to the Czechs, but to the world. The word robot was an invention of Capek. He derived it from the word robota, which means “drudgery” or “forced labor”.
The Czechs are the biggest beer consumers in the world; no small feat for a country of this size. Not surprisingly, Czech beer is world-famous. Pilsen is famous for (what else?) Pilsner beer. Ceske Budejovice is also renowned for a certain type of beer, the name of which comes from the German for Ceske Budejovice. In German, Budejovice is Budweis. Since the beer comes from “Budweis”, it is Budweiser.