It isn’t ‘moneychanger,’ Monsieur Retard

Posted on Fri 28 Oct 2011 @ 5.54am UTC

English Dictionary for the Hard-of-Learning

(Or why your brand of English makes you sound like a criminal)

bureau de change (n)

[Pronunciation: BEW-roh duh shawnzh, IPA /ˈbjʊərəʊ də ˈʃɒnʒ/, for both singular and plural]

A bureau de change is a place or business where foreign currencies are exchangeable. The plural is bureaux de change and pronounced same as the singular.

A bureau de change makes profit and competes by manipulating two variables: the exchange rate (a.k.a. cross-rate) they use to calculate transactions, and an explicit commission for their service.

Bureau de change of Siam Commercial Bank PCL, ...

Bureau de change of Siam Commercial Bank at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand (via Wikipedia)

This is what the Far East Asia calls a moneychanger (or money changer). Wrong!

(Read on to know why nowhere else in the world would use moneychanger.)

Although originally French, the term bureau de change (literally, ‘office of exchange’) has been completely absorbed into the English language as a bona fide English term for this type of business since 130 years ago.

The term bureau de change is widely used throughout Europe, and travellers can readily identify these facilities anywhere in Europe by their characteristic sign saying ‘Exchange’ or ‘Change’ or ‘Wechsel’ (German, ‘change’) or ‘Cambio’ (Spanish, ‘change’).

Alternative terms

For those who for some bizarre reason can’t possibly live with frenchified English words or expressions — like blond/blonde, brunette, bureau, gaffe, genrenaive, retard, etc, right? — try the other proper (albeit older-fashioned) English term money exchange, which may sometimes still be seen in the UK.

A: “I think using French words in English is pretentious.”
B: “Did you know that retard is a French word?”

Americans (and that includes Canadians and even Alaskans) usually use the term currency exchange instead (plural: currency exchanges).

Strictly speaking, a currency exchange is a forex-trading exchange or clearinghouse — rather like a stock exchange but dealing in bulk currency trades instead. But it doesn’t matter: it’s still better than moneychanger.

The International Monetary Fund (a.k.a. the Invisibly Misappropriated Fund) officially recognises bureau de change, casa de cambio (Spanish), exchange house and exchange bureau to mean this type of business (IMF Glossary: English-French-Spanish (2002), term E-304, page 111).

Show your money, not your ignorance

Apparently, the lamefags in the Far East Asia never got the memo about bureau de change, so the term moneychanger (or money changer) is usually used throughout Asia.

Beijing 2008 13 - Ticket touts

Ticket touts at the Beijing Olympics 2008 (Photo: Ben Beiske/Flickr)

Moneychanger is an abomination — it also means a tout (noun, since 1350–1400).

Originally, a tout (rhymes with ‘out’) is someone who spies on a horse in training for the purposes of betting (usually to influence the outcome by illegal or improper means: fixing it).

The other, more usual meaning of tout is a scalper (ca. 1300s) — someone who solicits (business or employment) or hawks (merchandise) in a brazen (shamelessly open) or importune (persistent and annoying) way.

So a ticket tout is someone who resells tickets unofficially (usually for a heavily booked event) at higher-than-official prices. He’s that Adam Henry (see Glossary) who pesters you to buy his bleeding concert tickets three times the normal price.

A moneychanger is therefore THAT unsavoury, oily-looking tout just round the corner who changes your money on black-market rates. And then knifes you in the back.

In Ulster province of Northern Ireland, a tout also means a police informer — otherwise known in North America as a snitch (in the criminal world) or ‘deep throat’ (in the political world). That kind of tout also knifes you in the back.

In other words, a moneychanger is someone most probably with criminal tendencies and whom you definitely shouldn’t want to deal with. (Unless you’re a knifing tout yourself.)

Other funny meanings of ‘bureau de change’

Bureau de change can be a euphemism for unlawful or immoral activities too.

Scene in a brothel by Andries Both

‘Scene in a Brothel’ by Andries Both (1613-1642) (public domain via Wikipedia)

The first situation is not really a euphemism: an actual bureau de change business establishment can be used as a front for money laundering. This is particularly the case in countries where currency exchange is lightly regulated. Customers bring in illegally obtained money in return for legally obtained (i.e. laundered) money. (Sometimes it works in reverse.)

The second situation uses the term bureau de change as a euphemism: it means a brothel [bordello, whorehouse, cathouse]. Kind of like the term massage parlour, where the ‘massage’ isn’t really massage, if you see what I mean.

Nobody said English wasn’t a bit of a gamble.

Nerd factoids

The funny thing is that moneychanger has a longer history of use than bureau de change.

Google Ngrams scan of books between 1800 and 2000 has it that moneychanger (money changer) came into [written] use around the early 1800s, whereas bureau de change came into being some 80 years later around 1880.

The reason for this apparent anomaly is that moneychanger has long carried a negative undertone in the English language.

Well before the 1800s, money exchange had mostly been carried on by the [criminal] underclass — touts and bankers (no kidding!) long on knives and short on scruples. By the 1800s, banking and currency exchange became commercially and socially respectable business lines because of general industrialisation, and the more respectable bureau de change came into being to replace the unlovely moneychanger.

Protip: Broadly speaking, exchanging money at a bureau de change is more expensive for you than an ATM cash withdrawal (even in a foreign destination) or paying directly by credit or debit card. Obviously, this depends on the type of card or account and the card issuer.

Protips for the natively non-native speaker

How do you stop a retard?
Use a retardant.

Step 1

Forget moneychanger and start using bureau de change all the time, every time. Now — from now on — for ever more.

People will more likely see you as a native English speaker (since you so yearn to speak like one).

To the culturally and educationally unwashed, the mere fact that French-sounding words can actually come from your pursed lips actually creates the impression on them that you’re cultured and learned, and be seen in a more positive light.

You’d be roundly seen as a pretentious prat for using frenchified words — especially when you get the pronunciation and intonation wrong.

Step 2

Pretend you’re deaf or blind whenever and wherever you see or hear moneychanger. Just bull-charge ahead and use bureau de change regardless — as though everybody else around you understands the term as perfectly as you do. (And you refuse to even use money exchange in lieu.)

The knowledgeable are apt to think you must have been to or grew up abroad for merely using bureau de change.

Those who actually grew up overseas (or came from there) and have been using bureau de change all their lives will be able to suss you out if you used it the wrong way or in an unconvincing manner.

Step 3

Don’t even bother to correct others (or explain to them) why moneychanger is wrong or undesirable. If they don’t know by now, they’ll not likely to want to understand.

Your constant use of bureau de change will have provided enlightenment to your unwashed, smelly acquaintances that “there is something not quite right” about moneychanger, and you will have done the world a massive favour.

Your constant use of bureau de change is seen by your washed and unwashed acquaintances as (a) a snooty, insensitive denigration and (b) refusal to accommodate one inch to the pragmatic needs of the ‘English with [state your locale] Characteristics.’ Prat you are.

Step 4

To show that you are a perfect user of bureau de change, you never italicise it (notwithstanding what has been done in this article). You never boldface it either.

True user through and through if you use bureau de change in roman type.

True copycat if you italicise or boldface it — obviously you copied the style in this article by skipping this Step 4.

* * *

(hat tip to this Facebook thread for inspiration, 27 Oct. 2011)

© Learn English or Starve, 2011.
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