While we can think of it from an individual perspective – such as buying a car or making mortgage payments, from a business perspective, and even a macroeconomic perspective – such as the issuance of national debt, today’s word – finance, has permeated all aspects of our lives. Though it is easy to think of the numerous ways that we deal with finance on a daily basis, what can be said of the actual word itself?
Our word finance originally was taken to mean the actual settling of a debt (end, remission, payment, etc.), much like a final payment. Originally coming from the Old French finance, the root of the word comes from the Medieval Latin finis, meaning “a final payment or settlement.” As for the word’s development, interestingly, unlike many words which have a singular meaning in another language but develop numerous meanings in English, the multiple definitions and usages of the word finance have all been imported from French.
The first known, recorded usage of the word finance occurred in the Coventry Mystery Plays circa 1400, using the aforementioned definition of an ending: “God, that did make all things of nothing…put each creature to his finance.” Half a century later, we can see the full adaptation of the original French meaning in the Tale of Beryn (circa 1460), where it is written, “to make for your wrongs to your rights, finance.” The Book of Noblesse, chronicling the French invasion of Edward IV in 1475, is the first work (again, from French) to interpret the word finance to mean a supply of goods, writing that, “through lack of provision of men-of-arms, treasure, and finance of sufficient number of goods.” By the middle 1700s, this concept of supply had been adapted to the monetary system, both for the individual as well as the state, as can be seen in William Cowper’s Works from 1766, “My finances will never be able to satisfy these craving necessities,” and Edward Gibbon’s 1781 masterpiece, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “To their wisdom was committed the supreme administration of justice and of the finances.”