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Word of the Week: ‘libra’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘libra’

This week we delve into the history and meaning of ‘libra’, the Latin term making headlines and causing a stir on social media following the announcement of Facebook’s new global currency.

Humbly aiming to rival mainstream currencies like the US dollar, the cryptocurrency will cater to the 1.7 billion people around the world who do not have access to basic financial services – providing a groundbreaking alternative to cash, credit cards and bank transfers. 

The new currency has already been backed by tech heavyweights Uber and Spotify, but has been slammed by cryptocurrency experts for being “the most invasive and dangerous” form of surveillance by Facebook yet.

So, why ‘libra’? Does the Silicon Valley giant have a secret penchant for astrology and the occult? Or was Mark Zuckerberg just born in late September?

What does ‘libra’ mean?

The new cryptocurrency is actually named after the Roman unit for measurement of weight: “an ancient Roman unit of weight corresponding to one pound”.

The abbreviation ‘lb’, used for pounds, is derived from ‘libra’ – and the ‘£’ symbol itself originates from the ornately written ‘L’ in ‘Libra’.

The word clearly has value, as from the ancient word sprang the ‘lira’, the currency of Turkey and previously, Italy.

‘Libra’ is, however, more commonly understood today as the seventh sign in the zodiac, one viewed by astrologists as the most desirable. The air sign is represented by a set of balanced weighing scales, and symbolises the Libran’s affinity with equilibrium, justice and harmony. This stems from its original and quite literal Latin meaning of: “scales”.

The Urban Dictionary’s entries, the majority of which centre around the astrological understanding of the word, range from the simple: “people born between September 24 to October 20” to getting more specific about the characteristics of a ‘Libra’: “Libran’s LOVE the lucrative and luxurious”.

From 1894 (a period in which spiritualism, the occult and all things a bit ‘woo woo’ boomed) a ‘libran’ newly came to be understood as “a person born under the sign of Libra”.

Characteristics of a ‘libra’ 

So what about the ‘Libras’ of Twitter, can they shed any light on the new term setting searching engines alight?

“When #Libras are good, they are good. When they are bad, they are really bad.”

“#Libras may look normal on the outside but inside they are strange”.

Perhaps not. As we follow Facebook’s latest endeavour, maybe we can only look to the stars for answers . Oh, and Google – for those wondering, Zuckerberg was born in May.

Read more:

Word of the Week: ‘gender’

Word of the Week: ‘trump’

Roisin McCormack