[Evertype]  On the unsuitability of the name of the euro Home
Note, three years on: I wrote this originally in June 1997; obviously euro is the name that won the day -- but I have observed that many people still forget to call it "euro" and still say "ecu". That pleases me. We have "pounds" and "quid" in Ireland; maybe we'll just keep using the name "ecu" as an alternate. ME, 2000-03-31

On the unsuitability of the name of the euro

As a linguist and cultural historian I can express only one thing about the "decision" taken in 1996 on the name of the European single currency: disappointment.

I am sure that the Ministers of the European Union member states all felt a sense of accomplishment at coming to a consensus, the fourteen of them, over such an important issue when they settled on the name of the new currency. It is a pity that they felt that they had a mandate from the people to invent a preposterous and unwieldy name for the currency after a few hours' haggling around a table. Putting a coin in our pockets is one thing -- a very good thing. Putting a word in our mouths is another.

You see, "euro" isn't a word. It is a morpheme, a part of a word -- and one which is particularly troublesome in the complex multilingual environment which is Europe. Europeans pronounce it ['juro], ['ojro], [ø'ro], and ['ewro] (when they spell it <euro>), and [ji'vro], ['evro] (when they spell it <evro>). In Irish it's going to have to be "eora" [jo:ra]. This is something we all agree on? Ministers, what is the plural going to be? "euros"? "euroi"? "eurot"? "eureux"? "eoraí?" Did anyone think about this for even a minute?

In English, one can note the unfortunate rhyme between "eurology" and "urology". In French, there is the unfortunate rhyme "des euros" and "des zéros". Heaven knows what other infelicities obtain in other European languages.

The tack of pursuing a traditional currency name -- or perhaps of inventing a new, but suitable, one -- was a far better idea than what we ended up with. Word in the pubs of Dublin at the time of the decision was that euro is "obviously just short for 'eurodollar'". Charming. At least the plain people of Ireland recognize that it isn't a word.

Is it true that the reason the Germans rejected the name "ecu" was that they felt that, as a currency, it "lacked stability"? One wonders how the Germans feel using their Mark, considering its "stability" in the first half of this century.

We would be far better off having a pan-European contest to find a decent and acceptable name -- even at this date. I would wager real money (yes, an ecu would be fine) that the schoolchildren and artists of Europe could do a better job than did 14 ministers sitting round a table.

The nice thing about the ecu was that everyone could pronounce it and spell it the same.

One might consider the good old solidus. Everybody says it the same way. We might all agree that the plural is solidi too. But I don't care. Call it a mark. Call it a dollar. Call it a shekel. Call it a credit. But give it a real name that's the same for everyone. Don't call it a euro. euro is a cheap, glib abomination.

Call it anything you like, ministers, but make sure that it is acceptable to the linguistic and cultural reality in which we live. "euro" is a slap in the face of Europeans' dignity. Do you want anyone to think of the European Union as more than a paradise for cultually-ignorant bankers and politicians? Start by finding a real name for the coin of the realm.

Michael Everson
Convener, CEN/TC304/WG2 (Cultural Elements)

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HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, Cnoc Fhéilim, Bóthar Bhaile an Róba, Cathair na Mart, Co. Mhaigh Eo, Éire, 2002-04-03

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