Monetary but not financial

Why do some writers believe that archaic or overly formal language improves their copy?

In a perfectly reasonable feature I was subbing yesterday, the writer referred to someone having "a pecuniary interest" in a project. The OED defines "pecuniary" as "(formal) of, relating to, or consisting of money". So "pecuniary" is accurate, but at least some readers would be left scratching their heads – or they would if I hadn't replaced it with "monetary".

My first choice, by the way, was "financial" but when I checked with the OED I discovered that "finance" is "the management of large amounts of money, especially by governments or large companies". So while all financial transactions are monetary, not all monetary transactions are financial.

In everyday speech such differences are hardly earth-shattering. But these subtleties are what makes English such a fascinating language, don't you think?

2 comments:

terrycollmann said...

I would agree that "pecuniary interest" should never appear in a newpaper, but you made the wrong choice in going fo "monetary interest" - regardless of the definition you found in the dictionary, every reader will understand what "financial interest" means, while they won't instantly grasp the meaning of "monetary interest", which is nothing like as common a phrase - 18:1 in Google hits. ("Pecuniary interest" actually has slighly more Ghits than "financial interest", but all the top ones look to be from statutory/legalistic contexts)

Apus said...

Point taken. My problem lies with the dictionary definition and commonly accepted usage. I guess that having smugly removed "pecuniary" I was over-keen to insert the "correct" word, rather than thinking of the word that most readers would accept.
And I wish some of our writers would consider meanings as carefully as you have.