26 November 2012

Neologisms in high finance

Gillian Tett's article entitled Beware the next financial blindspot, published in the Financial Times on November 22, gives a remarkable insight into the challenges and, on this occasion, the immense importance, of coining terms combining meaning and impact.

Ms Tett relates how Paul Tucker, now deputy governor of the Bank of England, tried to sound timely alarm bells about  systemic financial risks posed by what he initially called “Russian doll finance” or “vehicular finance”. It was not, however, until Paul McCulley, a senior Pimco official, coined the term “shadow banking” in 2007 that the concept, thanks partly to its new high-impact name, began to catch on.

Ms Tett does an excellent job explaining the details and the importance first of the concept, second of the term -- shadow banking -- combining meaning and impact.

Translators, who often have to come up with names for things "on the fly" usually earn no more for a well-coined high-impact term than they do for any other handful of words. And, as a rule, there's nothing much wrong with that. Sometimes, however, as Gillian's superb article demonstrates, a very great deal can hang on the success or failure of a handful of words.

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Glossary. Too little research.

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