Saturday, June 26, 2010


I heard this word on some financial news the other night, and realized that it's come up a time or two before in similar contexts. If you're like me, there are certain words that catalyze a kind of brain crash, and for me 'fungible' is one of them. It's partly because the world of finance is opaque to me in the first place, but partly because no matter how much I glean from context, 'fungible' immediately makes me think of fungus and also of sponge, so 'fungible' just sounds like something squishy in a kind of odious way. I had to try to find the word in context even to begin talking about it and so already know that it has to do with the liquidity of assets, which in this context (ooh, yuck!) doesn't really help matters.

So what does fungible really mean? What's its derivation? And why, oh why does it have to keep reminding me of a giant fungus plotting to take over the world?

Okay, at root, fungible really means 'interchangeable'. (Fungus, by the way, probably comes for the Attic Greek version of spongos, which is sphongos and means sponge. See?)  It helps to understand that it is related to function, not fungus. It comes from the Latin fungor--to execute, to perform, to discharge a duty, and -ible, which signifies the ability to do so. It actually comes down to us from the Latin through law, not finance, and the idea is, what is equivalent to what is owed, or, more simply, what exactly will make this right?

There's a good definition that helps our understanding of the way the word is used in different contexts at WordIQ. Fungibility is the degree to which items are equal. The example used there is that a gram of gold is recognized as substitutable for any other gram of gold, while a bale of wool is not a pure measure in the same way, as wool varies in quality, color, etc.

It's interesting to think about the most fungible assets as the ones being in some crucial way most uniform. You can trade a barrel of crude oil for another barrel of crude oil without blinking--okay, that was probably an unfortunate example--but when it comes to a barrel of apples, we might be arguing all day about whether my barrel of apples is sweeter than yours or vice versa.


  1. Can it?

    My task now is to slip fungible into a sentence without leading listeners to think I'm talking about something you can spray with fungicide.

    v word=frack. As in "Frack, that's going to be hard!"

  2. Oh, sorry the link didn't show up on the computer I'm using. So crude oil is not a good example of fungiblity after all!

  3. Interesting word. I thought for sure we were going to learn all about fungus...

    This one is going to be tricky, but I think fun too.

    Soon, I'm going to have to hand out definition cards when I have conversations :)

  4. I suppose if we're all going to be trying to introduce it at cocktail parties now, I should say that there is a difference in pronuciation. It's "funjible", not "fung-ible".

  5. Seana,

    You're taking me back to law school, where I first encountered this word in Antitrust class (I think). I knew what it meant back then, but not having used it since, it was one of those slippery words.

    Use it or lose it, right? It's kind of a shame to think of how much we learn and forget over the course of a few years.

  6. Slippery as a fungus, right?

    I already know that I am always going to think fungus first and not parity.

    Did I say parity? Oh, yeah, like I really know what I'm talking about there...

  7. My sentence from today...My son asked if I'd rather have Starbucks or a soda from Racetrac. I replied, (once I remembered the word) "those aren't exactly fungible Caleb" :)

    I'm now off to look up parity... : /

  8. Excellent. So what was his response?

  9. I believe I got a look like I was was nuts :)

  10. As long as you didn't get a look like you're a fungus, it's probably okay.

    So, are you going to post on parity? Because I'll certainly read it if you do.

  11. Haha, yep, as a matter of fact, I'm working on it...(along with one relating to McKinty's blog...)

  12. If anyone happens to still be reading down here, check out Glenna's post, in which she discovers the secondary meaning of parity...

  13. Seana,
    Haven't anything sensible to add as fungible is a completely new one to me, and would have assumed it related to fungi.
    When I was a boy in Carrickfergus I once got a letter delivered where "Carrotfungus" had been written in the address instead of "Carrickfergus" - and that was before we had post(zip)codes. Completely irrelevant, I know, unless you consider these two words to be interchangeable!

  14. Well, since I used two pictures of giant fungi to illustrate this blog, Philip, I'd say you were well within bounds!

    I'm sure many people addressing packages weren't quite up to Carrickfergus when they first approached it, but Carrotfungus is pretty big leap to make.