PPFF #129

Good morning,

If you’ve been reading, watching or generally consuming any sort of mostly free periodically circulated, information-based visual/literary products, otherwise known as news, in/about Britain recently, then perhaps you might have noticed they fall largely into the following categories:

  • Post-Brexit financial uncertainty; in particular, this week the ever-sliding pound sterling on the slippery slope of its exchange rate against the US dollar, made it to the top in terms of frequency of appearance.
  •  Eton mess. Sorry, I meant Tory mess. Eton mess would have been delicious; on the other hand the current Tory leadership contest mess is, well, just messy and without cream.
  • Euro 2016; that’s football. Not a shorthand for the currency that’s about to become defunct as of 2016, and yes, that thing, which none of the Home Nations are in any more. And,
  • The Chilcot report, or how Britain was yet again mis-sold quite deviously, another indecently contrived political product called the post-9/11 Iraq war, or that thing we didn’t know we didn’t know, which turns out, really they knew they knew, but they didn’t know we knew, and now we know they know we know they knew all along. Right, let me jog your memory, that thing Donald Rumsfeld described as:
    • “… as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

As I know next to nothing about economic uncertainty, football, politics or war, I’ll save you time and the usual gibberish and get right to another one of those facts about origin, admittedly in a state of befuddlement caused by that ‘Rumsfeldianism’.

Have you ever wondered why pound sterling is named as such? Sure, it’s called pound sterling to differentiate it from other currencies by the same name (e.g. Egyptian pound). But what is sterling?

The clue is in the name. Sterling is an Old English word for starling or ‘little star’, derived from ‘steorra’ (star) and a still current English diminutive suffix ‘-ling’.

Indeed there are English silver pennies minted after the Norman Conquest (AD 11th C) during the reign of William the Conqueror, which survive to this day, which show little stars on them.

Without further ado, here it is, the original sterling.


P.S. there are people who disagree with this etymology. Their argument is that these star symbols appeared on Norman pennies only in one issue cycle from 1077-1080 before the design changed completely. Their alternative is that the word ‘sterling’ derives from the old English word ‘ster’ meaning ‘strong’ instead. All I can say about that at this point is, well, haters are gonna hate.

Have a good Friday.