Keeping the US Government open, etymology edition

After some last-minute budget negotiations on Thursday, it looks like the US Congress will avert a shutdown and fund the government—at least until they come up to the next brink. Let’s negotiate the origins of these words in a Friday etymological news roundup: 

That’ll stop Congress. (Pixabay)


The word shutdown is formed, of course, from the verb to shut down, which was used for “closing a factory” or “stopping work” in the 1870s. The noun shutdown, for said closing, emerges in the record the next decade. In the 1890s, to shut down was applied to “turning off machines,” the noun sense following in the early 1900s. From closing factories to turning off machines, it’s a short skip to the metaphorical governmental shutdown, when a government isn’t “open” or “running.”


The word budget dates back to the mid-1400s when it referred to, essentially, a wallet. Back then, these were pouches or bags, typically made of leather. Budget comes from the French bougette, diminuitive of bouge, a “leather bag.” The root of bouge is the Latin bulga, which was likely pickpocketed from a Gaulish origin. A fat wallet can bulge out of your pocket: That word also derives from Latin’s bulga. The modern treasury sense of budget appears by 1733, when the British Chancellor of the Exchequer was said to open his budget, i.e., pull out his wallet and present his annual statement and plans to the government.


Fund is founded in the Latin fundus, referring to a “bottom” or “piece of land,” both with the sense of foundation, also rooted in fundus. The “bottom” sense also appears in profound, via Latin’s profundus, “deep, vast, bottomless.” Fund surfaces in English in the mid-1600s for a metaphorical “basis” or “foundation,” which is what capital can provide for a venture, if we follow the metaphor.


English comes to the brink some time n the 1200s, likely borrowed from a Scandinavian source (cf. the Danish brink, “edge,” or Old Icelandic brekka,steep hill.” Back then, brink referred to a “bank” and “seashore” as well as other treacherous edges one might fall over. The metaphorical brink, as in “verge,” is established by the 1400s. Brink has firm footing, though, in a Germanic base referring to some sort of natural “steep sloping hill or edge.” Brinkmanship is first attested 1956, when Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson criticized Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Dulles for “boasting of his brinkmanship—the art of bringing us to the edge of the nuclear abyss.” 

m ∫ r ∫

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s