Pen Ultimate / Money. That's All

One should not lag after the Zeitgeist, wherever it blows. Especially when it is printed in color on paper that is money

Not a few Hebrew eyebrows went up when the eyes under them saw the logo of the new section of Haaretz in Hebrew that is devoted to economy and finance: TheMarker. It looks natural enough in English, but in Hebrew, which is spelled from right to left, the letters look foreign (as they indeed are), and the word itself has no meaning.

But there is a reason for that, as there are reasons for everything under the sun. The World Wide Web envelopes the globe - in English. Therefore, every site has to have a name in Latin letters. The Hebrew Haaretz site is thus There are even Hebrew linguists who claim that modern-day Hebrew should abandon its ancient alphabet and switch to Latin letters, like the Turks did.

TheMarker started out five years ago as a Web site for financial and economic news. Upon its inception, an advertising company - the usual godfather at such events - came up with possible names for the nascent site. Unlike many Israeli parents who give their kids Hebrew names that sound and spell well in English, the advertisers proposed several foreign names, of which "Marker" sounded like a good idea, although actually you use a marker to highlight things on paper, not on the screen. But the title was already taken, so the default became "TheMarker," one word. In those days there was no Hebrew word for "marker" and so the English word was used, transliterated into Hebrew letters. Two years ago the Academy of Hebrew Language came up with a Hebrew word, "madgesh," which means the same, but sounds much worse.

The promotional campaign for the new site in 2000 ran under the slogan "the newspaper you hold now in your hands is a piece of history" (at least that is what the ad in Haaretz said at that time). Apart from the tinge of condescension (actually, this is all a matter of taste, because anything can be either a "piece of art" or a "piece of shit"), there was some truth here: A newspaper is history if only because it was printed some hours before it is read; a Web site, however, is updated constantly and continuously.

A mere five years have passed, and TheMarker's birth receded into history. When it decided to incarnate itself in printed form, it already had a name that was associated with it, a trademark. I know how it feels when you are asked to change your name: I came to Israel in the 1950s, when people's names and surnames where changed brutally into Hebrew words, which were meaningless for them. Anyway, TheMarker joined forces with the economics section of Haaretz, in a tabloid form that is supposed to be informative, entertaining and attractive for the reader. But, now that it is on paper, it is also a piece of history.

The promotional campaign for the new economics and financial newspaper is being led by a panda (yes, the one that is an endangered species), who says: "It's all about money, and you'd better know it." Which reminds me that when someone used to say to my father, "I really don't know how to express my gratitude to you," he used to answer: "Since the invention of money by the Phoenicians, such problems have an easy solution."

A place in history

In a book entitled "Money - a History," published by the British Museum in 1997 to coincide with an exhibition about money that was sponsored by HSBC, there is nothing about Phoenicians. They probably did not have enough money to buy their place in history.

The English word "money," first recorded circa 1290, means "coinage, metal currency," from the Old French moneie; from the Latin moneta, meaning "mint, coinage"; or from Moneta, the title of the Roman goddess Juno, in or near whose temple money was coined. Perhaps it comes from monere - "advise, warn" (see "monitor"), and thus embodies the sense of an "admonishing goddess," which is sensible although the etymology is complicated. In any case, The meaning of the word was extended in the early 19th century to include paper money.

But the idea of exchanging a quantity of worthy metal for goods dates back much further: "And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant" (Genesis 23:16). The reference here is to a real estate deal involving the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a fundamental stumbling block of contention with respect to Israel's existence in the Middle East.

Is it really all about money? Possibly. Quite probably. In the not-so-recent past it was not considered good manners to say this so bluntly, but one should not lag after the Zeitgeist, wherever it blows. Especially when it is printed in color on paper that is money (which costs a lot, too). We are all (well, most of us) against slavery, but we know full well that each man has his price, and it is better to sell while there are still buyers. No one has time and money enough to dispute the claim that "time is money."

During the American comedian Jack Benny's radio program, there was a skit in which he is held at knife-point. "You money or you life" he is told. A long pause. "Well?" "I'm thinking, I'm thinking," said Benny.

"Love for Sale" used to be a sad ballad (but a great tune), and the Beatles complained, "Can't buy me love." But maybe it is high time to admit that love is not a matter of give-and-take, but rather of buy-and-sell.

Once there was a poster in the smallest room of my house, where I spend a lot of time in contemplation: "Money can't buy you happiness, but it can make your misery more comfortable." I sold it.

Money - that's all. Even money is money. But money is just money. Although those who don't have it can't really say that.