Word of the Week! Amortize

The world of business provides few enough beautiful words, but this week’s is a favorite of mine, less for its mouthfeel and more for its utility. A person shows both their age and their financial sense when they can employ “amortize” and “amortization” well.

As its roots show, the word has something to do with death. That usage, The OED Online tells us, stretches back to the late Middle Ages, with a 14th Century example from Chaucer’s “The Parson’s Tale” provided. In 1656, T. Blount’s dictionary, Glossographia, notes “Amortize, to deaden, kill, or slay.”

That’s not what my tax accountant meant when he told me that we could amortize our equipment purchases over several years, if we wanted to write off our farming expenses. I imagine myself shooting holes in the 500 gallon cistern I use to collect rainwater for irrigation.

No, this sense of retiring a debt for equipment or liquidating something gradually appears, like modern business practices themselves, only in the 19th Century. All other morbidity clinging to the word and its nominalized form, “amortization,” have long vanished from living memory.

So consider this post a memento mori for all those other senses of “amortize,” here at the end of the academic year.

This blog will continue all summer, so nominate a word by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Words of the Week here.

Creative-Commons image provided courtesy of Pixabay.

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