From Daalder To Dollar: How Dutch Influenced American English

What could be more American than the dollar, proudly showing the images of great American presidents like Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt. But few Americans are aware of its very European roots. The American dollar was born in 1792 as a result of the Coinage Act of that same year. It was modeled after the most popular trade coin of that moment: the Spanish dollar. But it did not take its name from it. Actually the Spanish named their coin a real de a ocho or eight real coin. So where did this word dollar come from?  It was derived from the Germanic word thaler, which is short for Joachimsthaler meaning from the Joachim valley (thal). This Bohemian valley was famous in the 16th century for its great silver mines. The coins made from this silver were known to be very pure and therefore soon became extremely popular as an export currency throughout Europe.

By the 17th century Holland had become a world trade power with its own version of the thaler depicting a lion on it. They called it the leeuwendaalder changing thaler into daalder. Between 1614 and 1674 the Dutch colonized the island of Manhattan and founded the town of New Amsterdam (now New York). Naturally they took their leeuwendaalder with them. The currency soon became the most popular trading currency on the island.

In daily life the leeuwendaalder was referred to as daalder or daaler because it was shorter. The "aa" sound became  an "o" sound either under influenced of English or as a result of the typical Amsterdam dialect that tends to pronounce "aa" as "oa".

During the 18th century the Dutch dollar lost influence to the Spanish real which was made of purer silver from South America. But by then the name dollar was already such commonplace that the English applied it to the real as well, turning it into Spanish dollar. When the Americans had to choose between pounds, dollars or some unknown name for their new currency the choice was easy. And so the American dollar was born!

Dollar was by far not the only word the Dutch introduced into American English. Everyday words like cookie, coleslaw, show, pump, skate, trigger, and Yankee all have Dutch roots. If you are interested in reading more about Dutch loanwords we recommend you reading:

Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops by Dutch linguist Nicoline van der Sijs.

Order it here