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The Independent Online
"Waste of talent" was one of the four national weaknesses identified by Gordon Brown in his Budget speech, and the Chancellor wasn't talking about money this time, although money was what talents used to be made of.

The Greek word talanton, as found in St Matthew's gospel, had meant a balance, or pair of scales, hence one of its weights, hence, in Matthew's time, a coin of a certain value. However, his Parable of the Talents - the one about the servant who buried the cash entrusted to him instead of investing it, got a rocket from the boss and was sacked - already carried a semantic double entendre, for a talanton could also be a "handout". A simple enough message: God gives everyone a package (unevenly distributed, the parable suggests) and woe betide you if you don't put yours to use.

In 14th-century English a talent had become not so much a good gift from above as anything a person happened to be born with, good or bad, perhaps even a nasty temper or a tendency to violence. For John Milton the talents were the natural faculties ("that one talent which is death to hide" he called his lost eyesight, thinking of the parable). Although we've narrowed the definition and a talent is now simply a natural aptitude, there's still the idea of a handout - training can foster a talent but it can't create it. For some of the untrained youths Mr Brown has his eye on, it might be something narrower still - a nice bit of talent. This usage ("How's the local talent?") is hardly 50 years old; before that, talent-spotting was a respectable branch of showbiz. Now it's a euphemism for a bit of good old lust, which would no doubt have distressed St Matthew.

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