Everyone else is talking about it, so I will, too…


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the failure of Congress last year to pass a budget for 2011. Barring a last-minute maneuver of some kind, the money that runs the government “runs out” this weekend. Things like passport offices, national parks, and other government services that rely on non-military federal employees will simply…shut down. The employees will be on furlough until Congress gets the budget passed.

Naturally, my inner Word Nerd became intrigued and I simply had to look it up in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Budget comes from the Middle English bougette. From the spelling you can guess, correctly, that the Middle English got it from the French–the French bouge, meaning “leather bag.” It’s a diminutive of bouger, “to move”, which is what I guess is what you’re doing with money when you put it in a leather bag. The French ultimately took it from Latin bullire, "to boil."  Makes sense if you think about the tiny movements of water when it boils.

Speaking of that, bouger is where we also get our word budge, as in what you can’t do you when you have a 100-pound golden retriever at the end of the leash who refuses to go into the vet’s office.

But the most intersting thing about budget was the definition.

The first definition is a “bag, pouch, or purse or its contents,” but that’s obsolete. No wonder I’ve never heard it: “Grab your budget and let’s leave.” “Rats! I left my budget in the car.” Just not used today.

The second definition is “a collection of items; stock.” I’ve never heard anyone say, “I have a budget of three cans of beans in my pantry.” "How much flour in the budget?" Maybe storekeepers?

Finally, we get to the third definition of the word: “a plan or schedule adjusting expenses during a certain period to the estimated or fixed income for that period.” Ahhhh….a spending plan.  There we go. But it gets more interesting. Watch!

The New World Dictionary says its definitions are listed in historical order, and Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary confirms this history of the word:

“1. A bag; a little sack, with its contents. Hence, a stock or store; as a budget of inventions. 2. The papers respecting the finances of the British nation. To open the budget, to lay before a legislative body the papers of the Executive Government.”

See how the financial definition of the word in the 1828 dictionary was focused on government specifically, as though individual people and families didn’t have budgets? I wonder when it began to be used as a general term, not just a technical governmental term?

Webster’s 1828 definition of “budge” as a verb is fascinating, too. He says: “To move off; to stir; to wag. In America, wag is much used as equivalent to budge; but the use of both words is vulgar.” And he offers it as an adjective, saying it can mean “surly; stiff; formal,”  (hearkening back to its French origins from bouger). The way we use "budge" has certainly changed through the years. “He’s a budge old man,” would never be heard today; we would never say a dog was “budging” his tail, and we certainly wouldn’t call it vulgar if we did.

Absolutely fascinating how the English language took a French word meaning "to move" and ended up with a word meaning a spending plan, leaving behind several uses of the word in the process. This is why I’m a Word Nerd. I had a lot of fun learning these historical definitions.

Thanks, Dictionary People! Your fellow Word Nerds salute you!

WORD NERD CHALLENGE: Discover the definition of Congress for yourself, and be the first to post it on my comments, using the "please comment" button below the blog entry. Everyone who comments on my blog this week gets a freebie!

Tune in next week…I’m going to discuss “furlough,” another highly intriguing word, and I’ll return to the fictional Kanuk, Alaska for Short-Story Tuesday. See ya!