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The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Smart Vocabulary The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Smart Vocabulary

A Wealth of Money Words

In This Chapter

"I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn't poor, I was needy. They told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, I was deprived. Then they told me underprivileged was overused, I was disadvantaged. I still don't have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary.
—Jules Feiffer, American cartoonist and writer

Roman mythology tells us that the goddess Juno (wife of head honcho god Jupiter) was responsible for warning people of dangers, and in this capacity the Romans called her Juno Moneta. (In Latin, moneta means "to warn.") The Romans built a temple in her honor and a while later added a mint alongside the temple. So Juno also became the goddess of finance, and the coins created in the mint became known as moneta. That word eventually turned into the French word monneai, from which our word money came to life.

So money has at its root a warning, which would explain why so many people through the ages have warned their fellow beings about the inherent dangers of money (it's the root of all evil, and so on). You'll find no cautionary tales in this chapter, but you will find lots of words related to money to enrich your vocabulary.

Mortgage, 401(k), and Other Personal Finance Terms

Unless you're an accountant or a cfo, your relationship with money is probably a personal one. That is, your dealings with money exist mostly in the realm of finance that affects only you and your family. Not that this is an inherently simple realm, far from it. There's still a lot of jargon and arcane terminology to sort through. A chapter 10 times this one's size would be necessary to do the field of personal finance lingo justice, so I'll just hit the highlights in this section.

A mortgage (MOR·gij, noun) is a pledge of property as security for the repayment of a loan. This is a strange word on two accounts. First, it's pronunciation seems a bit off, and second, the history of the word tells us that it means, literally, "dead pledge": mort is French for "dead" (and is pronounced MOR), and gage is an old word that means "pledge." The explanation for this is that if a person defaults on a mortgage, he ends up losing the property. It becomes, in effect, dead to him. So a mortgage is a do-or-die proposition.

Entering into a mortgage contract involves entering into a world of truly impenetrable jargon. To help out, here's a list of some common mortgage terms:

amortization (am·ur·tuh·ZAY·shun, noun)—The process of paying off a loan by making installment payments consisting of PRINCIPAL and interest. These payments are designed to pay off the entire principal by the end of a set time. Your bank will often give you an amortization table that lists each monthly payment and breaks down the amount of interest and principal you pay each time.

closed mortgage (noun)—A mortgage that doesn't offer a PREPAYMENT option.

down payment (noun)—The initial sum that the buyer pays toward the purchase of the house. The difference between the house price and the down payment becomes the amount of the loan (the starting PRINCIPAL).

equity (EK·wuh·tee, noun)—The difference between the current market value of a house and the amount of PRINCIPAL that remains on the loan.

fixed-rate (adj.)—A mortgage in which the interest rate stays fixed throughout the term of the loan.

foreclose (for·KLOZE, verb)—To close a mortgage ahead of time (usually because the MORTGAGOR can't make the payments) and sell the property to pay off the remaining debt.

mortgagee (MOR·guh·jee, noun)—The lender of the mortgage.

mortgagor (MOR·guh·jur, noun)—The borrower of the mortgage.

open mortgage (noun)—A mortgage that offers a PREPAYMENT option.

pay down (verb)—To pay a sum of money that reduces the mortgage PRINCIPAL.

prepayment (pree·PAY·munt, noun)—A sum of money used to PAY DOWN some or all of the mortgage PRINCIPAL.

principal (PRIN·suh·pul, noun)—The amount of the loan (not counting interest) that remains to be paid.

reverse mortgage (noun)—A mortgage placed on a home that has been paid off. The loan (which is typically given to a homeowner who is at least 60 years old) may be given in a lump sum or in monthly payments. The loan must be paid in full either when the house is sold or when the homeowner dies.

variable-rate (adj.)—A mortgage in which the interest rate changes periodically, usually in relation to some other interest rate.

A 401(k) (for·oh·wun·KAY, noun) is a U.S. employer-based retirement account to which an employee contributes a portion of each paycheck and then invests the money. Most plans allow basic investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, but some companies require specific investments (such as their own stock). The contribution is said to be tax deferred, which means the person pays no tax on the contributed portion of her income now, but tax is levied later when money is withdrawn from the account during retirement. This also applies to the extra money earned by investing the funds. The name "401(k)" comes from the section of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code that gives the specifics of the plan.

The Canadian equivalent of the 401(k) is the Registered Pension Plan (RPP).

An individual retirement account (more commonly known as an IRA) is a U.S. retirement account into which a person contributes money to be invested. The contribution is tax deductible for lower-income individuals and families, and the money earned in the investments is tax deferred. In a Roth IRA, contributions aren't tax deductible, but withdrawals from the plan are tax-free if the person is over a certain age (59[1/2] as of this writing) and the account has been open for at least five years.

The Canadian equivalent of the IRA is the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).

In the United States, small businesses and the self-employed can use simplified employee pensions (SEP), retirement plans that allow an employer to contribute a percentage of an employee's income, or a self-employed person to contribute a percentage of his own income, to an IRA.

An annuity (uh·NEW·i·tee, noun) is an investment that guarantees the payment of a fixed sum at regular intervals for life or for a specified time. The original annuities were yearly payments, which makes sense given that the word harks back to the Latin annus, "year," which makes it kin to words such as annual and anniversary.

Annuity also means "the regular payment of an allowance or income," and a good example is a pension (PEN·shun, noun), an amount paid at regular intervals to a retired employee.

Also related to the annuity is the tontine (tawn·TEEN, noun), an investment in which a group of people contribute to a common fund, and then they each receive an annuity that increases as each person dies.

Your net worth (noun) is the (hopefully positive) amount you end up with when you subtract the total value of your liabilities from the total value of your assets. Your assets are the things you own, such as your house, car, and collection of ABBA records, plus your bank accounts, investments, and whatever cash is stuffed inside your mattress. Your liabilities are your debts including your mortgage, credit cards, lines of credit, student loans, and so on.

The Cheap and the Poor

Some folks are merely frugal (FROO·gul, adj.), which means they're not wasteful and have simple tastes with regard to food, clothing, and other material goods.

  • It took Bernice forever to open her presents because she was frugal and didn't want to waste perfectly good wrapping paper.

Other people are downright cheap. They're the skinflints and tightwads of the world. However, there's cheap and then there's cheap, as the following adjectives show:

close-fisted (KLOS·FIS·tid, "klos" rhymes with "dose," adj.)—Lacking in generosity, mostly due to caution. You can also just use close by itself or tight-fisted. The opposite is open-handed.

miserly (MY·zur·lee, adj.)—Greedily hoarding wealth and possessions for one's own sake.

niggardly (adj.)—Spending or giving only the smallest possible amount, and even that is doled out grudgingly.

parsimonious (par·suh·MOH·nee·us, adj.)—Extremely FRUGAL.

penny-pinching (adj.)—FRUGAL in a foolish way. This is also reflected in the saying penny wise, pound foolish (see POUND).

penurious (puh·NOOR·ee·us or puh·NYOOR·ee·us, adj.)—FRUGAL to the point of appearing to be in extreme poverty (see PENURY).

stingy (STIN·jee, adj.)—Lacking in generosity.

Poverty (PAWV·ur·tee, noun) is the condition of having so little money that one has difficulty obtaining the necessities of life (or the means of subsistence, as the sociologists say).

  • A childhood spent in poverty gave Angus an appreciation for money and a compulsion to save every elastic band that came his way.

Someone who is in poverty is said to be impoverished (im·PAWV·ur·isht, adj.) or poverty stricken. A chronic lack of money is also called penury (PEN·yuh·ree, noun), and you can describe the situation or person as impecunious (im·pik·YOO·nee·us, adj.; see also pecuniary) or penniless (PEN·ee·lis or PEN·uh·lis, adj.). Someone in poverty experiences constant need or want, so you can describe him as needy (NEE·dee, adj.) or indigent (IN·duh·junt, adj.). If the poverty is extreme or even life threatening, then the person is destitute.

The Wasteful and the Wealthy

In this section, you'll look at some words from the opposite end of the monetary scale from those in the preceding section. That is, you'll learn about people who are generous, wasteful, greedy, and wealthy.

People who have lived through poverty and who later come into some money will often spend little of it on themselves. Instead, they'll prefer to spend their money on other people or causes, which makes them full of generosity (jen·uh·ROS·i·tee, noun). This means both a willingness to give and a liberality ("ampleness") in giving.

  • Hubert's generosity was such that he'd give you the shirt off his back, but Peggy wished he'd cleaned it first.

Great generosity is often called munificence (myoo·NIF·uh·sunse, noun), and free or profuse spending is called lavishness (LAV·ish·nuss, noun). If the person gives a generous gift but possibly in a showy or condescending manner, call it largess (or largesse) (lar·JESS or lar·ZHESS, noun). To bequeath (bee·KWEETH, "th" as in "thin," verb) is to leave money or property via a will or to pass something on to another person. The gift so given is a bequest (bee·KWEST). Finally, alms (AHMS, noun) are money, food, or goods given freely to the poor.

There are good spenders (such as those with generosity), and then there are bad spenders. An example of the latter is someone who is extravagant (ik·STRAV·uh·gunt, adj,), which means lacking in moderation or restraint, particularly with regard to spending money.

  • "Sure, $50,000 is kind of extravagant for a toilet, but a throne's a throne, right?"

If the person is recklessly or wastefully extravagant, call him prodigal (PROD·uh·gul, adj.) or profligate (PROF·luh·git, adj.). To squander (SKWON·dur, verb) is to spend money extravangantly (adv.) or foolishly. A person who spends money wastefully and self-indulgently is a spendthrift (noun) or a wastrel (WAY·strul, noun).

Spending money is one thing, but getting it is another kettle of fiscal fish. This is particularly true of those greedy folk who make an obsession out of the quest. This is called avarice (AV·uh·ris, noun), the excessive desire for wealth.

  • Her avarice stronger than ever, Leona's next scheme was to make big bucks by cornering the Beanie Baby market.

You can also call this cash compulsion cupidity (kyoo·PID·uh·tee, noun) and describe it as money-grubbing (adj.) If the person has an excessive desire for possessions, it's acquisitiveness (uh·KWIZ·uh·tiv·nuhss, adj.). If the desire is for someone else's possessions, it's covetousness (KUV·i·tuhss·nuhss, adj.).

If someone does get a fistful of dollars (or, really, a whole bunch of fistfuls), then you can say she's reached a position of affluence (AF·loo·unts, noun), which means having an abundance of possessions and money.

  • Manny's lucrative "Depot Depot" business—selling equipment for large depot-like stores—was the source of his affluence.

You can also call the person's situation opulence (OP·yoo·lunts, noun) or prosperity (praw·SPAIR·uh·tee, noun), although the latter also has elements of success or flourishing growth (such as you might see in a business).

Simoleons, Sawbucks, and Smackers: Words for Money

"Money makes the world go 'round," but it also "isn't everything." Money "talks," but it "doesn't buy happiness." We celebrate and chase money on the one hand, and we denigrate and shun it on the other. With all these contradictory feelings, it's no wonder that a small cottage industry of money words has formed over the centuries. I'll tell you about a few of them in this section.

Let's start with general money terms such as pecuniary (puh·KYOO·nee·air·ee, adj.), which means "of or relating to money."

  • With her life savings invested in her brother's Low-Fat Seltzer business, Dawn had a pecuniary interest in the health of his company.

You can also use monetary (mon·uh·TAIR·ee, adj.) as a synonym. Fiscal (FIS·kul, adj.) is similar, but it describes financial matters generally, so it has to do with not only money but also assets, expenses, investments, and so on. You'll often hear of businesspeople talking about a "fiscal year" or a "fiscal quarter." Fiscal also refers to government finances including taxes, deficits, and the debt (for example, some people describe themselves as "fiscal conservatives").

There's also the pecuniary gland, a whimsical monetary "gland" said to be a part of the mental anatomy of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who bill for their time.

One of the reasons we don't trust money is that it's often involved in illegal activities. For example, a kickback (noun) is a portion of a sum of money received that is secretly or forcibly returned to the giver.

  • Cliff awarded the million-dollar fish manure contract to Farkas Brothers Ltd. with the understanding that a 10-percent kickback would come his way.

A similar concept is part of the verb bribe, which means to give money, gifts, or favors in exchange for influencing a person in a position of authority or trust. (Boodle is money taken as a bribe.) More generally, graft (noun) is money made through illegal means, especially by taking advantage of a position of power or privilege. A slush fund (noun) is a pool of money used for corrupt purposes (such as bribery or graft). To embezzle (verb) is to steal for one's own use money or other property that was entrusted to one's care. In general, money acquired dishonestly is called ill-gotten gains or pelf.

See also: venal, logrolling.

Like anything that humans deal with daily, money has lots of slang terms associated with it (such as the just-mentioned boodle, slush fund, and pelf). In particular, we seem to enjoy coining slang terms for the various coins and bills that money comes in. For example, a quarter is often referred to as two bits. Here's a list of some slang terms used for various bills:

$1—bean, buck, clam, greenback, simoleon, smacker

$5—fin, fiver, five-spot

$10—sawbuck, tenner, ten-spot

$50—half C-note

$100—bill, C-note, yard

$1,000—G-note, grand, K, large

Besides these specific terms, there are also lots of slang words for money in general, including the following: bacon, bread, dinero, do-re-mi, dough, ducats, gelt, green stuff, jack, kale, lettuce, lucre, moola, mopus, scratch, and shekels.

Afghanis to Zlotys: Names for World Currencies

To complete our look at money words, this section runs through the names of the currencies used by various countries around the world.

The most popular name is dollar, which is used in the following nations: American Samoa, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Ecuador, Fiji, Grenada, Guam, Guyana, Haiti, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kiribati, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Montserrat, Namibia, New Zealand, Palau, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, St. Lucia, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Tuvalu, United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Zimbabwe.

The franc is also popular, and it's used here: Andorra, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, France, French Guiana, Gabon, Guadeloupe, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Martinique, Monaco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Switzerland, and Togo.

The peso is spent in these countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Philippines, and Uruguay.

The pound exchanges hands in these nations: Cyprus, Egypt, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Ireland, Lebanon, Saint Helena, Syria, United Kingdom.

The following table lists the currencies of a few other countries.

Currency CountryCurrencyCountry
afghaniAfghanistanrialIran, Oman, Yemen
guilderNetherlandsrupeeIndia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
korunaCzech RepublicschillingAustria
kronaIceland, SwedenshekelIsrael
kroneDenmark, NorwaywonNorth Korea, South Korea
liraItaly, TurkeyyenJapan
randSouth AfricazlotyPoland

Questions and Exercises to Help Everything Sink In

Here's a list of the main words you learned in this chapter:







closed mortgage

down payment













net worth

open mortgage

pay down





reverse mortgage




In the following questions, hover your mouse pointer over the word Answer to see the answer in your browser's status bar:

  1. What is the literal meaning of mortgage? Answer

  2. Choose the word that means "assets minus liabilities": Answer

    a. principal

    b. annuity

    c. net worth

    d. mortgage

  3. Fill in the blank: "They couldn't meet their payments, so we're going to have to ______ their mortgage as of December 25." Answer

  4. Choose the word that means "employer-based retirement account": Answer

    a. IRA

    b. SEP

    c. 401(k)

    d. annuity

Match the word on the left with the short definition on the right:

  1. extravagant Answer a. an abundance of possessions
  2. affluence Answer b. debts owed
  3. equity Answer c. an investment with regular income
  4. liabilities Answer d. lacking in moderation
  5. annuity Answer e. market value minus principal

  6. Choose the word that's a type of annuity: Answer

    a. graft

    b. lien

    c. mint

    d. tontine
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