In January’s posting about exoneree, I pointed out that although Internet search engines are great research tools, they employ algorithms that try to second-guess what a searcher intends. As a result, when I first did a search for finical, the word that was the subject of the last posting, Google gave me hits containing the word financial (since then, it seems to have learned from my correcting it). We may consider hits for financial instead of finical to be a mistake, which it is, but in this case etymology partly redeems the blundering search engine by showing that finical and financial are related. English financial is the adjective corresponding to finance, an Old French word meaning ‘payment.’ That was based on the Old French verb finer ‘to pay a ransom,’ which arose from the idea that paying a sum of money puts a fin, an end, to the matter. English still uses the noun fine in the same way: you violate a minor ordinance, and paying a fine puts an end to your encounter with the legal system.
That reminds me of an old joke about a motorist who parked in a no-parking zone and returned to find a police officer writing a parking ticket. The motorist said: “But officer, look, the sign above the space says ‘Fine for Parking.'” As we saw yesterday, the fino/fine that means ‘of high quality, excellent,’ and by extension in English ‘great, wonderful,’ also comes from fin, so it’s not surprising that the joke can play off the two senses of English fine.
Like English, Spanish has words based on Old French finance: finanzas ‘finance’; financiamiento and financiación ‘financing, funding’; financiar ‘to finance’; and financiero, which can mean ‘financial’ as an adjective and ‘financier’ as a noun.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman