Most of us spend a fair amount of our lives trying to make money so that we can do the things we want to do. The juggling of income and expenditure is typically referred to as a budget. The concept behind working to a budget is stunningly simple and was expressed very well by the Mr. Micawber, a character for the Charles Dickens’ novel, David Copperfield, where he says;
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.
Economists and politicians will spend lots of time trying to make this sound complicated – especially since the former want you to pay them for their services and the latter want you to vote them into power. But so long as what you spend is less than what you earn, you’re good to go. Sure you can borrow money, which feels like extra income, but of course, it isn’t income because you have to pay it back.
So when governments make budgets, all they are doing is telling us all how they intend to use taxes (government income) to keep the country running (government expenditure). In the US, when the opposition parties can’t agree on budgets, it can lead to a shutdown – as happened on 1st October, 2013. And if a government overspends its budget, then they run the risk of losing the next election.
The word budget wasn’t originally anything to do with balancing income and expenditure and it made its way into English via the French bougette, which in turn was a diminutive of the word bouge – a leather bag. It’s transfer to the meaning we all use today came from British parliamentary procedure back in the early 18th century when the Chancellor of the Exchequer would submit a financial plan for the next few years to the members of the House of Commons. He would carry his notes in a small leather bag, the budget, and then “open the budget” to read his statement. In 1771, Horace Walpole wrote in his Memories of George II that;
The time was now come for opening the budget, when it was incumbent on him to state the finances, debts, and calls of Government.
Going back in time a little further, we find that the word budget also referred generally to the contents of a purse or bag. So in 1597, Thomas Morley wrote in his A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke that, “You shall have the hardest in all my budget.” And seeing as how a bundle of papers could easily be carried inside a purse, the word became used to refer to newspaper print for periodicals such as The Pall Mall Budget or the Young Folk’s Weekly Budget. This is similar to how we use words such as gazette, record, or chronicle in the names of other newspapers.
The Old French bouge (or sometimes boulge, buche, or buge) can be traced back to the Latin bulga, a leather bag – or even the womb! Note that in Old Irish we also find the words bolg and bolc being used to refer to a leather sack or bag. The word bulge for a protuberance or lump comes from the same root.
Its move to taking on verb characteristics was first noted at the beginning of the 17th century. In the sense of “to draw up or create a budget,” John Taylor wrote in Works (1618) that, “We eate a substantiall dinner, & like miserable Guests we did budget vp the reuersions.” By the 19th century, it was happily being used in the same verb sense as it is today.
It’s also worth noting that up until the late 19th century, the phrase “open one’s budget” was used to mean “speak one’s mind.” In Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey (1847) she wrote;
There’s Matilda..and I must go and open my budget to her.
Related to this sadly obsolete phrase was its similarly defunct counterpart, mumbudget, which means “to keep silent.” Here the addition of mum (to stay silent) creates an opposite of the word budget. It’s a great word and worthy of resurrection!