Country in west Africa, bordering Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The word seems to have been a general name for that coastal area, since two other countries (Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea) use it in their names.

The guinea was also a British coin, minted of gold imported from West Africa and originally issued in 1663 as equal to one pound or twenty shillings. It was the first British coin to be manufactured by machine ther than hand-hammered. The coins had an elephant stamped on them, and on the edges inscribed "Decus et Tutamen" (ornament and safeguard, which was the purpose of the inscription, an anti-clipping measure). However, the value of the gold in the nearly 8-gram coin increased beyond the face value of the coin; by June 1695 they were trading at 30 shillings. People sold gold for silver and then exported the silver out of the country to make a profit. The government tried to bring down its price by refusing to accept it for tax payments at a value of more than 22 shillings. In 1699, there was a further reduction to 21.5 shillings (21 shillings 6 pence) and in 1717 to 21 shillings, which continued to be its value as long as the coin was issued. This did reduce the export of silver some, but not as much as had been hoped.

The guinea coin was minted until 1821, when a new coin worth exactly a pound, the sovereign was introduced under George IV. However, expensive items were still priced in guineas as a gesture of wealth until at least 1969 when Britain abandoned the shilling entirely, moving to a decimal currency system of just pounds and pence.

Source: Bernstein, Peter L. The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

In origin it's the same name as Ghana. In the Middle Ages, Arab and Berber traders from North Africa established trade routes through the centre of the Sahara, encountering a rich native state called Ghana. This became an important source of gold in Europe. Later, as Portuguese seafarers explored more of the African coast from Morocco downward, they eventually found a way of getting back home against the prevailing winds, and this enabled them to turn the corner and explore the southern coast of West Africa. Finding the Africans could trade a rich supply of gold, they assumed they had found the coast of Ghana, or Guinea as the Portuguese name was. They founded the fort of Elmina (the mine) on the Gold Coast to profit from this. In fact the Empire of Ghana was entirely inland, and also the gold they produced was alluvial, not mined; but the names have stuck. When the British colony of the Gold Coast became Ghana on independence in 1957, it was a slight misnomer: Ghana was more in what is now Mali.

Furthermore, it is said that lost sailors applied it to a corresponding region of South America, giving rise to the name Guiana. (In fact Guiana might be a local native name meaning "Land of Waters", if a newer dictionary is to be believed.) It is unclear if this confusion resulted in a South American mammal being given the name of Guinea pig. Not content with this lavish toponymy, another island got the name New Guinea some centuries later for no readily apparent reason.

On independence in 1958 the Republic of Guinea was the only French colony not to join the French Community first as an autonomous state: that is, it became fully independent immediately. It was ruled by President Ahmed Sékou Touré for decades; on his death Prime Minister Louis Lansana Béavogui succeeded him, but he was soon overthrown in a military coup by Lansana Conté.

The guinea mentioned in Webster as a British coin last issued in the early 1800s nevertheless continued as a unit of account, even beyond decimalisation (1971). Certain professions continued to charge in guineas: the law, for example, and racing prizes were sometimes expressed in guineas (so you get races named the So-and-so Guineas). It conveyed a kind of big-old-money feel to a transaction. Abbreviation "gn." or "gns.". A guinea being one pound and one shilling, it converted to £1.05 in decimal currency, which did away with all the colourful expressions of old. It died away and is no longer used at all.

In American English, "guinea" is an ethnic slur for an Italian American, typically a male. It derives from the earlier phrase "Guinea Negro," originally used to describe a slave brought from the Guinea coast of Africa, and later used more broadly to describe any newly-arrived slave or to describe a particularly dark-skinned person of African descent. Even later still, the single word "guinea" came to be used exclusively to describe Italian Americans in a derogatory sense. The implication is that like African Americans, Italian Americans (most of whom originally immigrated from sunny southern Italy) are swarthy or darker-skinned, and therefore inferior to lighter-skinned people.

Guin"ea (?), n.


A district on the west coast of Africa (formerly noted for its export of gold and slaves) after which the Guinea fowl, Guinea grass, Guinea peach, etc., are named.


A gold coin of England current for twenty-one shillings sterling, or about five dollars, but not coined since the issue of sovereigns in 1817.

The guinea, so called from the Guinea gold out of which it was first struck, was proclaimed in 1663, and to go for twenty shillings; but it never went for less than twenty-one shillings. Pinkerton.

Guinea corn. Bot. See Durra. -- Guinea Current Geog., a current in the Atlantic Ocean setting southwardly into the Bay of Benin on the coast of Guinea.-- Guinea dropper one who cheats by dropping counterfeit guineas. [Obs.] Gay. -- Guinea fowl, Guinea hen Zool., an African gallinaceous bird, of the genus Numida, allied to the pheasants. The common domesticated species (N. meleagris), has a colored fleshy horn on each aide of the head, and is of a dark gray color, variegated with small white spots. The crested Guinea fowl (N. cristata) is a finer species.-- Guinea grains Bot., grains of Paradise, or amomum. See Amomum. -- Guinea grass Bot., a tall strong forage grass (Panicum jumentorum) introduced. from Africa into the West Indies and Southern United States. -- Guinea-hen flower Bot., a liliaceous flower (Fritillaria Meleagris) with petals spotted like the feathers of the Guinea hen. -- Guinea peach. See under Peach. -- Guinea pepper Bot., the pods of the Xylopia aromatica, a tree of the order Anonaceae, found in tropical West Africa. They are also sold under the name of Piper Aethiopicum. --Guinea pig. [Prob. a mistake for Guiana pig.] (a) Zool. A small Brazilian rodent (Cavia cobaya), about seven inches in length and usually of a white color, with spots of orange and black.<-- called also cavy -- used commonly as an experimental animal in laboratory research. (c). metaphorically, any animal or person used in an experiment; -- often applied to people who are unwillingly or unknowingly subjected by authorities to policies or procedures which might cause bodily or mental harm. --> (b) A contemptuous sobriquet. Smollett<-- obs in this sense now. -->. -- Guinea plum Bot., the fruit of Parinarium excelsum, a large West African tree of the order Chrysobalaneae, having a scarcely edible fruit somewhat resembling a plum, which is also called gray plum and rough-skin plum. -- Guinea worm Zool., a long and slender African nematoid worm (Filaria Medinensis) of a white color. It lives in the cellular tissue of man, beneath the skin, and produces painful sores.


© Webster 1913.

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