The Grammarphobia Blog

Budget wise

Q: In your July 9, 2008, blog item, the questioner asks why we talk of “borrowing” words from another language when we don’t give them back. That’s not always true. Look at “budget,” a word that we borrowed from French in a different form and then returned to the French with its modern spelling and meaning. But perhaps it’s normal for a financial term to be stricter as to the terms of borrowing.

A: You’re right. We borrowed the word “budget” (originally “bowgette” in English) in the 1400s from the French bougette (a diminutive of bouge, a leather bag).

The English word initially referred to a leather pouch or bag or wallet. A citation in the Oxford English Dictionary from around 1530 refers to a “boget with leteers hanging at his sadel bow.”

By the late 16th century, the word was being used to refer to the contents of a bag or wallet. And by the early 18th century (after an etymological hop, skip, and jump) the contents of the wallet had become a statement of projected revenues and expenses.

The earliest OED citation for the new financial usage, dating from 1733, refers to a budget of “publick Revenues” as “this Art of political legerdemain.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The French, as you say, borrowed this handy word back, in the early 19th century, spelled the English way: budget.

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