MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Sunday, October 31, 2021

The budget’s French connection


If you had seen videos or pictures of finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz leaving his ministry or in his car or walking into Parliament to table Budget 2022 on Oct 29, you would have noticed him carrying a leather briefcase containing the budget speech.

In doing this, Zafrul was merely following tradition. Finance ministers in almost all countries carry such a bag or briefcase when entering Parliament to present the budget.

Have you ever wondered why this annual presentation of the government’s economic plan for the year – aimed at seeking approval from the people’s representatives to use money from reserves or lenders – is called the budget?

The secret lies in the bag or briefcase that the finance minister carries.

You see, the word “budget” comes from the French “bougette”, which means a small leather bag. Originally, the bougette was a leather pouch used by French merchants to carry money. The word “bougette’ itself comes from the Latin word “bulga’, also meaning a small leather bag.

The British picked up the word in the 15th century and it soon transformed into budget, meaning bag, pouch or wallet. Later, the word was used to refer to both the container and its contents.

Subsequently, the word also acquired the meaning of planning one’s expenditure, or money available for expenses. This is expressed in sentences and phases such as: “It will stretch my budget” or “Plan your budget if you want to travel abroad next year”.

Once a year, we hear of the government’s budget, which is a plan detailing revenue and expenditure over a future period of time to achieve objectives such as improved economic growth and better health and education. It is always presented by the finance minister.

The word “finance” is also a French contribution. In Old French, finance meant “end” or “ending” in relation to money or payments made. It often meant “settlement of a debt”. When the British borrowed the word, it took on additional meanings such as “taxation” and “ransom”.

I wonder if this came about because people felt they were being held to ransom by the government when it imposed taxes on them.

After a couple of centuries of usage, the word “finance” took on the meaning of “management of money”. As a verb, it means “to provide money for something to happen”, as in this sentence: “The government rejected my application for a scholarship so my father had to finance my study.”

If you think the word “minister” is linked to a French word, you are right. It comes from Old French “ministre”. That, in turn was derived from the Latin “minister”.

“Ministre” meant servant, valet or a member of the household staff. The Latin “minister” meant servant, subordinate or inferior.

“Minister” today has several meanings, including a member of the Christian clergy, a diplomat below the rank of ambassador, and a member of the government Cabinet. As a verb, “minister” means to attend to the needs of someone, as in: “She ministered to my injuries.”

In Malaysia, we are accustomed to the word “minister” being applied to politicians with honorifics sitting in the Cabinet and enjoying a fat salary and allowances.

You may be wondering how a “servant” or “inferior” person is today lording over your life and that of your children via the rulings or policies he or she introduces either individually or as part of the Cabinet.

In my many years of journalism, I have seen the humility of ordinary individuals standing for election for the first time gradually peeling off as they ascend the political ladder. As they accrue power, they tend to forget that they are there to serve. Some, of course, become arrogant enough to think you, the voter, has to serve them.

Of course, we are largely to blame for this because we give them so much face. Some of us run after them saying “Yes, Datuk”, “No, Datuk”, “Wonderful speech Tan Sri”, or “YB, you must open the function”.

Respect is one thing, but reverence is another. Haven’t you seen some people rushing to shake the hands of certain elected representatives? Some even get upset if their man (it almost always is a man in Malaysia) is critcised.

We minister to their egos and help them lose perspective. Then we say they are arrogant.

Now, this word “arrogant” also comes to the English language by way of Old French “arrogance”. The Latin root “arrogantia’ means haughty, proud or a presumption (of greatness).

As ministers can dish out favours, it is not surprising that they are courted, especially by businessmen and hangers-on hoping for handouts or contracts. Being in the Cabinet means you have power.

And yes, the word “Cabinet” too is indebted to the French. It comes from the French “cabinet” which means “small room”, which itself comes from Old French “cabane”, meaning “cabin”. It can be traced to the word “cavea” in Latin, which means “stall” or “cage” or “den of animals”.

A den of animals? Now that is interesting.

The lower-case “cabinet” today means a cupboard for storing or displaying articles, but earlier it meant “a secret storehouse” or a “treasure chamber”.

Hmm… I wonder. Is this why all over the world politicians go to great lengths to secure a place in the Cabinet?

Then again, in Malaysia, you don’t have to be a Cabinet member to enjoy the salaries and allowances of a minister. All you need is to be appointed a special envoy with ministerial rank. And you don’t even have to work as hard as health minister Khairy Jamaluddin or finance minister Tengku Zafrul to get the same perks.

And Yes, “envoy” comes to English by way of the French “envoye”, meaning a messenger or a message.

Having advisers or special envoys – in addition to a large Cabinet – will only stretch the already stretched Budget 2022, but who’s bothered about this message from the rakyat.

No, sorry, “rakyat” is definitely not from the French. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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