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the language of money

From the New Yorker, Money Talks - Learning the language of finance. For a little while I thought this article was going somewhere, but as I read more I decided I don’t like it much at all. It positions itself as piercing the veil of obscurity surrounding financial and economic jargon, but then ultimately contributes even more confusion to the field.

Yes, the field of finance and economics (let’s lump them together) have a lot of specialized jargon. If you don’t understand what a “bear market” is, you’ll be left out of the conversation, and since finance undoubtedly has an impact on your life, this is bad. But it’s no different than many other fields. Practically every day the local meteorologist mutters something about a “cold front” (except when they’re muttering about an “occluded front”, whatever the hell that is). A doctor once told me to avoid “excessive ambulation” (no joke). Jargon is jargon. It’s a part of every field of study.

Returning to the article in question, it does start by trying to dispel the myth that financial jargon cannot be understood. It’s only scary if you allow it to become scary, or rely on people getting paid per click to explain it to you. Matt Taibbi’s preferred technique appears to be throwing as many strange terms as possible into one article, then exclaiming, “See! Scary!” I do not recommend trying to learn financial terminology from his articles.

The second half of the article consists of examples of what the author calls “reversification”, whereby words mean they opposite of what you think they do. Except they don’t. In order to arrive at two opposite definitions for a term, he has to twist both meanings, plain speak one way and and financial speak another. There are many examples, but “bail out” is especially bad. For serious, does anybody not know what “bail out” means?

Purportedly, to “bail out” a boat is to remove water from it, but to “bail out” a bank means to inject money. remove -> inject. Reversified! Or not. If we allow ourselves the liberty of interpreting the analogy as an analogy and not a strictly literal description of the process involved, bailing out a boat means to prevent it from sinking (disappearing). Bailing out a bank means to prevent it from... well, sinking (disappearing).

Some years ago I was at a party and noticed a friend trapped in a conversation with an annoying guest. I intervened and pulled him away. Afterwards, he said, “Thanks for bailing me out.” Party jargon alert! Fortunately, I was well acquainted with the party scene so I was able to understand the language he used.

Yeesh. Using the “helpful” definitions contained in this article to read financial news will only leave you more confused.

Posted 2014-08-01 19:15:51 by tedu Updated: 2014-08-01 19:15:51
Tagged: business language magreview