The Joy of Language Learning

The Peculiar Case of Impecunious People

Before humans could arrive at the idea of a standardized medium of exchange, there was a phase of trial and error. Anything and everything was currency. If you wanted a horse, it would set you back 2 cows. A cow, on the other hand, would cost you 2 quintals of wheat. But the exchange was the easy part here. Finding someone who has a bottle of milk and would like to trade it for 4 eggs that you have was an even bigger problem. So when a solid medium of exchange was established, it transformed the way people led their lives. Then coins made of silver, gold and other metals paved the way for paper notes – effectively leading to the extinction of the barter method in the modern age. Yet, its remnants can still be found in a few words that we use in the English language.

Image Credit: Steve Buissinne/ Pixabay
Image Credit: Christian B/Pixabay

Take the word pecuniary for example which means something related to or consisting of money. So if we say that people were provided pecuniary aid by the government during the lockdown, we mean that they were provided with monetary aid. It is derived from the Latin pecu which meant cattle or flock since cattle were a common medium of exchange as well as an indicator of wealth in the ancient time. In Ireland, cattle were used as currency as late as the 1400s, long after the introduction of coinage.

In a similar vein, we have the word pecunious meaning rich or wealthy, albeit with arrogance or an ungenerous attitude. Impecunious, on the other hand, refers to being broke and penniless. Thus that one friend who is first to jump onboard a new plan yet has little to no pecuniary contribution is, apparently, impecunious.

Image Credit: Tumisu/Pixabay

Peculation is the act of illegally using or taking money entrusted to someone, especially relating to public funds as in “A senior official was charged with peculation.”

A related Latin root peculium was used to refer to private property. Its derivation, peculiar, thus means typical, exclusive or unique. For instance, when we say that Madhubani painting is peculiar to the Mithila region of Bihar, we mean that it is exclusive to that region. Since things that are not shared by the majority are considered odd, peculiar can also convey the sense of something being strange or unusual as in “He is a peculiar person.”

Madhubani Painting
Madhubani Painting.
Image Credit: Disha Gadhiya/Flickr

Now that you have broken the ice with these words, below is an opportunity to know them even better.

Table Summary:

PecuniaryRelating to or consisting of money
PecuniousWealthy and rich
ImpecuniousBroke and penniless
PeculationEmbezzlement or stealing of public funds
PeculiarExclusive or unique; strange and unusual

Welcome to your A Peculiar Quiz

What does "impecunious" mean in the given headline?


He admitted obtaining a _________________ advantage by deception. (monetary)

His [pecunious] attitude towards the poor is why a lot of people don't associate with him. The bracketed word means:

He was charged with __________________ (embezzlement of public funds)

"Peculiar" in the given headline means:


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