The Vocabularist: Where does the word 'budget' come from?

Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe liked the Budget so much he named his dog after it Image copyright Other
Image caption Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe liked the Budget so much he named his dog after it

The history of the word budget has nothing to do with budgie (which comes from an Australian phrase meaning "good cockatoo"), but a lot to do with fat cats, leather bottles, and bags of tricks, writes Trevor Timpson.

The annual Budget has been dear to the heart of successive chancellors of the Exchequer for centuries. The most famous chancellor in fiction - Plantagenet Palliser in Anthony Trollope's novels - cared more for his budget speech, we are told, than his chances of succeeding to a dukedom.

And a later Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, famously called his dog Budget.

Go back six centuries, and Wycliffe's translation of Psalm 33 says God gathers together the waters of the sea "as in a bowge". (The New International Version has "into jars" - the King James version picturesquely says He gathers the waters "as an heap").

"Bowge" to Wycliffe was a leather bag, or leather bottle. It came from the French "bouge" and before that the Latin "bulga" and before that the Celtic word "bolg" which meant a bag or sack, and is the ancestor of "bulge" and a close cousin of "belly".

A century after Wycliffe, English had started to use the French diminutive "bougette" for a bag which could contain letters, news, tools, goods for sale or luggage. In 1783 the 74-year-old Dr Johnson told how he landed by boat at Billingsgate and "carried my budget myself to Cornhill before I could get a coach".

Shakespeare wrote that tinkers "may have leave to live and bear the sow-skin budget".

Image copyright Other
Image caption Samuel Sandys was one of the first Chancellors attacked for what was in their "Budget"

And there arose a saying "open your budget" meaning "show what you've got" or sometimes "own up" or "stop trying to fool us".

In the politics of 18th Century Britain it was often said to, or about, chancellors of the Exchequer.

In 1733 a pamphlet called The Budget Opened attacked Sir Robert Walpole's tax plans, saying that once revealed they turned out to be "what has been known, confuted and exploded long before".

Charles Hanbury Williams MP wrote a poem in 1743 called "Sandys's Budget Open'd" attacking the then Chancellor Samuel Sandys for cutting the tax on gin and getting the country addicted.

Gradually "Budget" came to stand for the tax proposals themselves, without any mention of "opening" it.

By 1764 a pamphlet attacking Chancellor George Grenville's policies was called "The Budget: inscribed to the man who thinks himself a minister".

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