To Coin a Phrase

Without checking, I can safely say that I refer to words and phrases being coined a lot in these posts. I’ve long wondered why we use to coin as a verb in this way, so different, apparently, from how we use coin as a noun. So I decided to look into it.

It turns out that there is a link between these two different uses of the word. Coin has existed as a noun since the 14th century. It came from the Old French coigne, meaning wedge, piece of money, stamp, or corner (coin is the modern French for corner). At about the same time, to coin was also used to refer to the process of making coins.

By the late 16th century, to coin came to mean to make or fabricate in a very general sense. This use of the word didn’t last into modern English though, and now we only use it to refer to the invention of new words or phrases. I’m curious as to why we only use it in this way. Maybe it’s because words can be valuable, like money. And we exchange them, like money. Or maybe to coin a phrase just sounds good.

Of course the term for making coins is to mint. And of course that word has nothing to do with mints. The latter is derived from the Greek menta or mentha, referring to the mint plant. To mint, the verb, comes from the Old English mynet (coin or money), which could trace its history back to the Latin moneta, from which the word money and related words like monetary are derived.

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