EXERGUE \ig.ZURG or ek.SURG\ n. a small inscription on a coin, usually below the emblem on one side
Although there are no global rules when it comes to coin design, there are a few widespread practices, and the exergue
is one of them.
Most commonly, the exergue is located on the reverse side of a coin (what many of us colloquially refer to as the ‘tails’ side), and is often inscribed below a horizontal line that serves as the ground or baseline for an emblem. The exergue will often consist of the place and date of minting, as it does in the picture above.
It is handy to know, by the way, that the main side of a coin (the one often known as ‘heads’) is referred to by numismatists as the OBVERSE . With this term in tow, you are ready to read a catalog entry that might be used to describe the coin depicted above…
Obverse: HEIL DEM FRIEDEN ER SCHENKET SEGEN DER ERDE (Hail the peace which gifts the world with prosperity).
Reverse: UND MILDE WEISHEIT VERSCHEUCHT DEN VERSTORENDEN KRIEG (and gentle wisdom scares off destructive warfare).
Exergue: LUNEVILLE/ D.9 FEBRUAR 1801
XU \soo\ n. an old unit of Vietnamese currency, pl. XU
Usually when I introduce a currency, I work from the ‘dollar’ equivalent down to its smaller units. This time I’m going in the other direction, because every Scrabble player should have the xu
deeply engraved in their brains…
make up one HAO
and ten HAO
make up one DONG
Inflation has taken its toll on Vietnam to such an extent that neither the xu
nor the hao
have been in use for years. However, all three terms (xu, hao, and dong) are sometimes used by Vietnamese Americans as colloquialisms for the local currency (cent, dime, and dollar).
Where did the unusual name xu come from? From the similar-sounding name of an old French coin called the SOU, which is nowadays used as slang for ‘a small amount of money’, as in ‘I don’t have a sou’. Sou in turn can be traced back to a gold coin used during the Roman Empire called the SOLIDUS.
In the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, SAU is also listed as a variant spelling of today’s word, but I’ve been unable to find much evidence of that spelling anywhere.
PYX /piks/ n. a wooden chest historically used to store sample coins from the UK’s Royal Mint while they awaited testing for integrity
Have you ever heard of the Trial of the Pyx? I hadn’t until today. Now it’s your turn…
The Trial of the Pyx is a tradition going back to medieval times that was put in place to keep the Royal Mint honest. The way it worked (and still does, albeit with a more ceremonial than useful purpose) was that throughout the year the mint would randomly select freshly minted coins and store them in wooden trunks, called pyxes, until the trial took place.
For many years these pyxes were stored in a room at Westminster Abbey, which became known as the Pyx Chamber. The picture above shows an old pyx in this chamber.
At the actual trial, which takes place at the hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, a jury of ASSAYERS (people who perform chemical tests on metals) is appointed to run a variety of tests to make sure the coins conform to a legal standard. To help them in their tests, a special Trial Plate is created having the precise composition expected of the coins…
Did you notice the use of the word COMMIX (to mix together) in this particular trial plate? Although its meaning is self-evident here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this word ‘in the wild’ before.
In addition to testing the coins in public circulation, the trial is also used to test ceremonial coins known as MAUNDY money. This refers to coins that are printed and distributed as part of a religious tradition known as Royal Maundy, but I think we’ll call that one homework.
EXSERT /ek.SURT/ v. to protrude or thrust
Today’s word is often encountered in biology in one of the adjectival forms, EXSERTED or EXSERTILE.
Example: “The woodpecker uses its exsertile tongue to secure an insect before eating.”
Anagram of EXERTS