Friday, November 16, 2012

Ken-Bun-Ki: "The US Dollar"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American.
This one is from November 7, 1996. 

The other day a friend asked me, "Why is the currency of the US called the dollar?"

I will explain that today. Approximately 220 years ago when the United States of America won its independence from Great Britain, we wanted to cut all relations between our two countries. The British flag, laws, fashion, and of course the British Pound Sterling were abolished. Our allies in our War of Independence were the Prussians, so we took the German word "Daler" and created our own currency system based on it. The word "Daler" means "silver coin," so the original Dollar was a coin. It had our new National Bird, the Bald Eagle, engraved on it. Currently we have famous political leaders on our money, but we still have the Bald Eagle printed on the $1 bill. The free market of the Land of the Free, the currency known throughout the world, had this humble beginning.

Now I have a question for you. Why does the Japanese pronounce the word "dollar" as "do-ru"? I hear it on Japanese TV news shows all the time. "Today's yen-dollar rate is one do-ru to so-many yen." The word "do-ru" should be for dolls. To write "dollar" in Japanese is pronounced "dara-," which is easy enough. How did the word "dollar" turn out to be pronounced "do-ru" in Japan? I would love to know this. If you travel to the United States, make sure you pronounce the currency as "dollar."

Japanese is full of "borrowed" terms whose pronunciation is tweaked to fit into their syllabary, but none are butchered quite the way "dollar" is. I have absolutely no idea why it is pronounced "do-ru" instead of something closer to the actual word. 
Oddly enough, we call the Japanese currency the "yen," when the true term is "en." There is no "y" in the  Japanese word. Weird, right? 

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