Call a spade … a spade!


Wordsmiths know that words you choose “paint” a picture in the mind of the reader. Therefore, writers choose their words carefully, especially if they want the reader to “see” (visualise, if you insist) something from a certain angle or perspective. Marketing gurus also know this. In fact, it’s their bread and butter (literally) to know which words or images they use make you want to “get-out-there-and-buy-one” or which ones are likely to turn you off. Journalist, especially those in the finance industry have “developed” a whole arsenal of “neutral” words when they talk about issues related to the financial markets. One which caught my attention recently is the use of “austerity measures” whenever there is talk about what is going on with the finances of a country such as Greece.

In a “wait-a-minute” moment, the expression elicited a smirk, and this post. What are they really talking about?, is the million-dollar (pun intended) question. Not being a financial guru, my take on it is that they are actually talking about issues which affect people’s lives. In fact, they are talking about a shortage of money and the measures taken by the government and the EU to manage Greece’s debt. These “austerity measures” are similar to the “tightening-of-belts’ concept- one which conjures up hunger, poverty and tough times ahead for all. Unsurprisingly, the expression is not used. The “austerity measures” basically means that the government, and its sidekicks such as the IMF, World Bank and EU Parliament are putting the squeeze on the ordinary citizens of Greece – that for those struggling to make a living, conditions will become tougher.


Think back to the “sub-prime” lending crisis which rocked the US economy a while back. “Sub-prime” was the “tag” used by the banking industry to describe their practice of lending money to those who, due their financial situation, would not be able to get a loan using the normal “screening” criteria. Instead of calling it “risk lending”, a more “truthful” description, it became known as “sub-prime” lending in “finspeak” (jargon used in the financial sector).

The result of such reckless behaviour by the banks? Those who received the loans “defaulted” – could not pay back the interest plus the money, and the country’s economy took a nosedive. And since markets are linked nowadays, the rest of the world’s markets went into a spin. Another one was “poisoned assets” which emerged during this crisis time. These were basically bad investments made by the banks – spending money on assets such as stocks and property which were not worth the money spent on them. It means someone went on a shopping spree without doing their homework as business leaders. And now, after the fact, these became known as “poisoned assets” – a nice way of saying we invested in a “dud’.

How we talk about things, the words we use, the expressions used, help us to understand what we are really talking about. Talking about a spade, calling it a “specialised digging tool” only serves to hamper communication. Speech and text (now video) are already such crude tools to represent, convey and share human concepts and ideas. Putting such “creative spins” on words and phrases diminish the true understanding of their meaning and impact.

Say what you mean .. which is what I hope I’ve done.