The Accounting Historians Journal Vol. 11, No. 2 Fail 1984
Baladouni UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS
ETYMOLOGICAL OBSERVATIONS ON SOME ACCOUNTING TERMS
Abstract: Selected on the basis of their etymological appeal to the author, eighteen accounting terms are traced to their earliest ascertainable form and meaning in the family of languages to which they belong. Such an investigation not only re-veals something of our past, but also helps energize the conceptual landscape of our vocabulary.a
An appeal to etymology in order to determine the current mean-ing of a word is no more reliable than an appeal to spelling in order to determine its present pronunciation. Over time, change of mean-ing is likely to alter the etymological sense of a word thereby ren-dering it obsolete or archaic. For example, if an "undertaker" was once someone who undertook to do anything, nowadays he only undertakes to manage funerals. It is established that what a word meant once is not necessarily what it means today. In matters of meaning, present usage is the only scientifically valid criterion.
Be that as it may, a knowledge of etymology can often help give a fuller and clearer understanding of what a word means now. The etymology of a word is its life history—its progressive development in form and meaning in the family of languages to which it belongs. As accountants utilizing English, we are naturally more interested in the development of accounting terms in our own language, but we must not forget that many of them had a long history before they entered the English language. An etymological interest in account-ing vocabulary can help not only in revealing our past, but also in making the present meaning of our terms richer and less forgettable. In the pages that follow are brief observations on some accounting terms, selected on the basis of their etymological appeal to the author.
a I thank Professors Toussaint Hocevar and Michael Dugan of the University of New Orleans for their comments on this paper.