Denarius or dibilishi?
A LUNCH menu from the Carlton Hotel, in Johannesburg, comes this way:
Assorted Hors d'oeuvres from R0.95
Paw paw cocktail R0.40
Cream of lettuce soup R0.35
Pizza Carlton style R0.85
Grilled sole & lemon R1.05
Prawns a l'Orientale R1.35
River trout a'Orange R1.25
Larded Fillet of Beef Madere Sauce R1.25
Roast Turkey Payanne R1.25
Poussins Peri Peri & Rice R1.30
Grilled Sirloin Steak Maitre d'Hotel R1.15
Veal Noissette in White Wine Sauce R1.15
Grilled Lamb Chops & Cutlets R1.05
Braised Ox Tongue & Spinach R1.05
Gateau Meduse R0.55
Baba au Rhum R0.55
Iced Cup Venus R0.55
Sweets from the Trolley SQ
Yes, you've guessed. This is a very old menu – January 18, 1963. It was less than two years after the country's disastrous slide into decimal currency and economic ruination.
Grilled Lamb Chops & Cutlets (R1.05) was still recognisable as 10 shillings and sixpence, what you'd expect to pay in a top hotel in those days.
Them wuz the days, pounds, shillings and pence - £sd. £ stood for livre (French, very posh), s for shilling and d for – well, there's some dispute here. Some say it stood for denarius, which was a small Roman coin; others say it stood for dibilishi, which was the Zulu word for a penny.
Whatever, there was seldom a reason to calculate in anything but shillings and pence – no need to break into the pounds.
Decimalisation brought disaster. Pre-decimals you could get a mixed grill on the beachfront for three shillings and sixpence (equivalent of 35 cents). You could take a girl out to dinner for a pound (R2).
I rest my case.
DECIMALISATION also wrought havoc with our folklore. The two-shilling piece (or florin) was only slightly smaller than the two shillings and sixpence piece (or halfcrown). It (the two-shilling piece) was known in Zulu as Iskoshimeni (Scotchman).
A Scotsman won a contract to lay a line for the Natal Government Railways. He hired Zulu labourers and paid them in florins, telling them they were halfcrowns. It meant that for every pound they earned, they were cheated out of four shillings.
They never forgot this schlenter. It became part of the lingo, Scots business practice immortalised. Now forgotten.
Well, almost. A few years ago I was in a remote rural village when I picked up a 20 cent piece (nominal equivalent of two shillings) that an old woman had dropped at her stall.
"Iskoshimeni," I said as I gave it back to her.
Her face lit up. "Awu! Impela! Iskoshimeni!" (Oh! True! A Scotchman!)
But the next generation will know nothing of it. This seems a pity.
WHY this nostalgia for the imperial coinage? Well, consider. The halfcrown (two shillings and sixpence – nominal equivalent 25 cents) had several Zulu names. One was idiomatic – ingogo, meaning "the price of a woman".
Twenty-five cents! Yep, them wuz the days!
THE folk of Ridgewood Retirement Village, north of the Umgeni, believe in keeping the grey matter active. Recently they had a quiz evening . During his introduction the MC quoted a few answers from similar evenings in other villages .
· Who was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas? - JR .
· What was Gandhi's first name? - Goosey.
· What was Hitler's first name? - Heil .
· Name a bird with a long neck. - Naomi Camphell.
· What happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963? - I don't know, I wasn't watching it then.
· Name something that follows the word pork. - Cupine.
· Who hit the first golf ball on the moon? - Tiger Woods .
· Who is the author of Winnie the Pooh - Brooklax .
Er, so what? Pretty clear answers, I'd say.
THEY'VE started a self-help group for compulsive talkers. It's called On and On Anon.
A girl phoned me the other day and said "Come on over, there's nobody home." I went over. Nobody was home.