Of a war-torn America! Fifty years ago...


March 24, 1992

OH THE PROBLEMS of a war-torn America! Fifty years ago this month, in 1942, this country was so strapped for strategic war materials that we had to replace the nickel in the nickel coin.

That led The Evening Sun to comment editorially:

"What is the 5-cent piece to be called? It will have in it copper, silver and other metals. But the one ingredient it will not have is nickel. Of course, because of long association, people may continue to speak of the new coin as 'a nickel,' though the term would obviously be incorrect.

"Other coins bear names denoting their relationship to a dollar. 'Cent' is short for centesimus, or hundredth part of a dollar. 'Dime' is a derivation of decimus, or tenth part of a dollar. The 5-cent piece is a twentieth of a dollar and the Latin word for twentieth is vicesimius. Thus the new coin might be appropriately called a 'vice.' But the modern American is farther removed from Latin than were his ancestors and such a name would be likely to appeal only to a classicist. It would have to be decreed from above.

"Very often popular names for coins simple appear. This is especially true of English coins. For example, in popular English parlance a six-pence is a 'tanner,' a shilling is a 'bob,' a pound is a 'quid.' We have similar though less universal names for our coins and bills, too, as, for example, 'two-bits' for 25 cents and 'five-spot' for a $5 bill, 'fifty grand' for $50,000.

"Virtually non-existent here are names derived from decorations on the coin as the English 'crown' or the old French 'Louis.' Our nickel might one have been called a 'buffalo' but it wasn't. Certainly it is unlikely to be called a 'Jefferson' or a 'Monticello' or even a 'Tom,' a 'Jeff' or a 'Cello.' "

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