Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Word Mystery: cash / efectivo / espèces

5 Comments

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages.

I was right receiptThe cashier at my new local grocery store doesn’t like me. I suppose this is my fault, but I’ll explain what happened and you can judge for yourself.

She rang me up on one of my first visits, a total of 19,67€. Using the one math trick that I know, I gave her a 20€ bill and 17 cents.

“What’s this?” she asked, indicating the 10-cent piece.

“That gives me 50 cents back,” I told her.

“What? No it doesn’t! I don’t want this!” and she pushed the coin into my shopping bag, making it impossible to reach since it fell underneath all my purchases.

“Yes,” I insisted because this is the one math thing I can do right. “I give you 17 and you return 50.”

I may have pushed this point a little too hard. I should have taken her disproportionately angry initial response as an indication that she was in a bad mood.

“Don’t you tell me how to run my register!” she yelled at me. Yelled. In the middle of the store on an otherwise normal day. I backed down immediately, but the receipt proves that I was totally right, something she realized as soon as she counted out my change.

Today we went through the same thing; I was counting out the 33 cents that would give me 50 back but she changed up the operation and grabbed a one-Euro coin from my palm and, in a flash, gave me 17 cents in 1- and 2-cent pieces. I’m fairly sure that she did it just to piss me off, which worked, but she also made the rest of her shift impossible.

As a former cashier and person who had to cash out registers at the end of the night, I know that you want MORE denominations of coins so that you can easily make change. If you give all of your 1-cent pieces to someone out of spite, then you’ve screwed yourself by not being able to spread out their dispersal over your shift. Her behavior makes no sense to me and only results in both of us being penalized for her bad mood and inability to grasp mathematical concepts that even a complete idiot (me) can master. Makes no cents at all.

But dealing with surly cashiers is one of the disadvantages of paying in cash, today’s Word Mystery. I’ll ring you up below.

EN → cash — money in coins or notes, as distinct from checks, money orders, or credit. ORIGIN Old French casse [box] from Latin capsa [box].

ES → efectivo4. adj. Dicho del dinero: En monedas o billets. [4. Money term, in coins or bills.] ORIGIN Latin effectīvus [of practical implementation].

FR → espèces4. monnaie ayant cours légal. [Legal tender.] ORIGIN Latin “species” but its evolution is unclear. Possibly from the sense of “commodity” but even that seems a stretch.

English note: I’m disappointed that I never made the connection between “cash” and “caixa” before. The latter is a term seen in lots of places all over Spain as it’s commonly used in bank names, like Caixa Galicia.

Spanish note: Effectivus for the rest of us, I guess?

French note: In my mind, espèces was related to “spices” which made sense as they were used as currency. That it’s related to “species” makes no sense to me.

Today’s Winner is Spanish since it both confounded me the first time someone said it to me (“You want me to effectively do what, exactly?”) and, because of the three options, it’s the least annoying.

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Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

5 thoughts on “Word Mystery: cash / efectivo / espèces

  1. Wow.! I too have been a former cashier and I completely understand your logic.! I too will give change in that manner. Sometimes, the cashier gets it and sometimes I get completely rebuffed with snide looks to match.! It’s funny how sometimes even small exchanges between people can become lost.

    • I sometimes get nods of respect when I use my change trick. Recently, a cashier had to pull out a calculator because she was totally confused by what I’d done and when she saw the “good” total, she was really impressed by my skillz. (She didn’t know that it’s honestly the _only_ thing I can do with math.)

  2. English has the word “specie,” obviously like the French “espece.” Merriam-Webster defines it “money in kind.” I think of it as “in coin of the realm.” That what I get from reading historical novels during my formative years. [Which now gives me an eyeworm (ick….the visual version of an earworm….of the book jacket illustrations of the 1940’s-60’s (Frank Yerby, Samuel Shellabarger….oh, yes–Sergeanne Golon’s Angelique) ).

    • My dictionary defines “specie” as money in coins, rather than notes, what I would call “change.” The origin cited in mine is also the Latin species, but I still don’t see how a word that means “kind, type” can evolve to mean anything monetary. The link I provided to the source of my confusion has many historical / literary uses of the word, but there’s no sense at all about how it evolved. I’m still confused.

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