FEATURE: Investment and finance terminology includes some wild jargon
GRAMMAR COACH: Fielding your questions
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Bulldogs and dragons and bears oh, my. If you're an investor or financier, be on the lookout for them, as well as for transfixed deer, stalking horses, wayward alligators, chameleons, bunnies, swans and herrings.
Most industries and fields of endeavor have their own jargon, consisting of acronyms, idioms and other abbreviated references to technical terms. Jargon can be a useful means for peers to communicate succinctly. But too often, industry jargon becomes a barrier that puzzles and alienates outsiders.
We can think of no better example than the esoteric lingo used in investing and finance. The ravages of the recession that began in late 2007 include widespread employee layoffs, loss of personal investments, collapse of pension funds, home foreclosures, automobile repossessions, and personal and business bankruptcies.
The undercurrents of economics are difficult to decipher and predict. Their turbulent tides are made even murkier by the opaque terminology peculiar to the finance and investment fields. Cutesy nicknames for bonds, financial markets and investment strategies trivialize the consequential actions of traders, and seem more akin to children's board games than to international economics. Much of the jargon that infests financial markets is based upon strained allegorical references to animals, birds and other wildlife.
Most people know that stock traders characterize the ebb and flow of securities and commodities as "bull markets" and "bear markets," but may not understand their symbolism. The terms are derived from the differing ways in which those animals attack prey. Bulls thrust their horns upward; hence, prices rise in a bull market. Bears attack by swiping their claws downward; prices decline in a bear market. An investor who believes that a security or market is about to slump is called a bear.
Some investors have been known to stage a bear raid. That's an unscrupulous and illegal practice in which several traders conspire to force the price of a stock down by quickly selling large amounts of a hapless company's stock and spreading disparaging rumors about it. After the company's stock prices decline, the traders swoop in and make a profit by buying stock at the low prices they artificially triggered.
Traders sometimes can be fooled by a bear trap, a misleading indication that rising prices of a company's stock are on the verge of declining. Investors who sell are in for disappointment when the company's stock prices resume their climb.
Between bulls and bears you'll find deer. A deer market is "flat" neither on the rise nor declining. Market activity during a deer market tends to be low because many investors remain indecisive just like deer that stand in the middle of a road, mesmerized by the headlights of approaching cars.
News stories about imminent company bankruptcy auctions may classify one of the prospective suitors as a stalking horse. To most people other than bankruptcy lawyers or financiers, that arcane term sounds mighty peculiar. Lions and tigers and bears stalk prey, but horses ordinarily don't they're vegetarians. In Renaissance-era England, however, hunters found they could stalk birds and other wild game at close range by walking alongside and hiding behind trained horses that did not arouse alarm.
Such a "stalking horse" became the metaphoric inspiration for the stalking-horse bidder, which a bankrupt company chooses from among a pool of prospective bidders. As the lead bidder in a bankruptcy auction sale, the stalking-horse bidder figuratively comes closest to the prey by being permitted to determine the minimum price for the assets of the failed company.
Shrewd stalking horses and other investors know they should cautiously avoid alligators. An alligator property is a real estate holding for which monthly mortgage payments, utility fees, property taxes, insurance premiums and other expenses exceed rental income potential. Such a property can devour an owner's profits and even take a bite out of reserve funds. No one wants to tangle with an alligator property.
A bunny bond is far more benign. That's a type of bond with an option that enables speculators to reinvest coupon payments into additional bonds with the same maturity. It's also called a "guaranteed coupon reinvestment bond" or a "multiplier bond." Bunny rabbits can reproduce abundantly cute, eh?
So if a "bunny bond" is a multiplier, what would you expect a bulldog bond to do? No, it doesn't bite its owner or guard assets. In this case, the name simply reflects the place of origin. "Bulldog bond" is investor slang for a bond that is issued in Britain by a foreign company, typically in British pounds sterling. The bulldog, you see, is a traditional symbol of England.
The term kangaroo bond could be used to reflect rapid fluctuations in market value. It doesn't, however. The name also reflects place of issuance in this case, Australia, where kangaroos are native species. Kangaroo bonds are issued in the Australian currency in the Australian market by non-Australian firms.
How about a dragon bond? That's a financial vehicle issued in Asia in U.S. dollars. Some people might say that such use of the term "dragon" uses an ancient cultural symbol to create an insulting stereotype.
An option that is configured to change its structure or "color" if certain conditions are satisfied is called a chameleon option.
Another critter inhabiting the sphere of finance is the red herring, which in an investment context is not necessarily related to the ocean or the fishing industry. In the real world, a curing process that uses slow smoking and salting turns herrings a deep reddish-brown hue. The practice of dragging aromatic red herrings across a trail to confuse hunting dogs gave rise to the use of "red herring" as synonymous for an intentional distraction that diverts attention from something of greater importance.
In an investment sense, however, a "red herring" is merely the colloquial name for a preliminary prospectus that lacks information about the selling price or offering date, pending review and approval by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The front page of the prospectus contains a statement, stamped in red ink, advising that the document is not an official offer to sell the securities. Such use of the term "red herring" ignores the traditional metaphoric use of the term because no distractions are involved; transactions are simply prohibited until approval by the SEC.
Traders make transactions based on likelihood and predictability. They sometimes can be fooled, however, by events that previously had seemed improbable. The term black swan has been used to describe such circumstances. Apple's iTunes and iPod were "black swans" to music-industry executives who were committed to distributing and selling music on CDs. Certainly downloading would intrigue a few people, but most consumers would remain loyal to CDs and record stores wouldn't they? The coordinated attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, was a black swan. So was the "Beatle mania" phenomenon that so suddenly and radically altered the American pop culture landscape in 1964.
The "black swan" metaphor was derived from the widespread belief in Renaissance-era Europe that all swans were white, because a black one never had been seen. That mistaken assumption was proven wrong by the discovery of black swans in western Australia in 1697. Figurative "black swans" aren't necessarily good or bad; they're simply unexpected. A black swan in the financial arena upsets previous expectations about market performance.
The lingo of the capital markets also is peppered with obscure references to knighthood, fairy tales, hardware store items and more rude ethnic stereotypes. We'll discuss those in the July edition of EditPros News.
1. Barry F. wrote:
"I don't understand the meaning of the word 'hue' in the context of the expression 'hue and cry.'"
The grammar coach replies:
The idiomatic expression "hue and cry" is a tautology a self-redundancy, analogous to "cease and desist," "all is well and good," "hale and hearty," "for all intents and purposes," "null and void," "aid and abet," "cool, calm and collected," "ways and means," and "will and testament."
In "hue and cry," the word "hue" is derived from the Old French word "huer," which meant "outcry" or "shout." You can use either "outcry" or "clamor" in place of "hue and cry."
2. Wendy wrote:
"I received a gift that was engraved for me and my husband. Just to be clear, should it read The Shales's, Shales' or Shaleses? It was a beverage container and it reads The Shaleses. It looks funny but think it is proper. Can you confirm?"
The grammar coach replies:
The engraving on your beverage container is correct. You are Wendy Shales, but your family members collectively are The Shaleses (in the same way that the relatives of Earl Welch are The Welches).
If the engraving had said The Shlales's (singular possessive), that would have referred to a possession of a single entity. Such a construction would be plausible in reference to the city of The Dalles, Oregon (for example, "The Dalles's newest public school is now open"). Use of singular possessive would be unusual in reference to a family, however.
If the engraving had said The Shales' (plural possessive), you would expect an accompanying noun (for example, The Shales' car) to indicate the item of possession.
The engraving, however, does not indicate possession, but instead declares a tribute to a family of individuals. Either The Shales Family or the plural form, The Shaleses, can express that concept.
You can read more about the plural and possessive forms of names ending in "s" in the "grammar coach" section of the April 2005 issue of EditPros News.
Are you perplexed by some aspect of grammar or word usage? Don't be shy! Ask the "grammar coach" at EditPros and we'll try to helpat no charge, just for the sport of it.
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