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Of funts, fakeaways, and Ninja loans

By Barun Jha in New Delhi
Last updated on: December 16, 2008 14:11 IST
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The turmoil in the world economy has done what economists and experts could not do for years -- pushing into the day-to-day life a healthy dose of financial jargon, a lot of which has even become household words now.

Thanks to the quantum of problem and subsequent interest and impact for one and all -- right from the policy-makers to business honchos to a common man, it is no surprise that 'bailout' and 'credit crunch' have been crowned separately as the 'words of the yea'' for 2008.

Similarly, MTM -- or Mark-To-Market -- has moved out of the companies' balance-sheets to jump onto the lips of billions of investors, who are no more interested in just knowing what losses have they booked, but also what is their current 'notional value', which could become a reality later.

With the crisis pushing economic news out of the business section to the front pages of newspapers, 'toxic' assets are also no longer confused with the assets of companies involved in the business of some deadly acids. Toxic still means deadly, but it is something that could bring the banks to death with their inherent risk.

At the same time, short-selling is not about the sale-purchase of small pants, but betting that the value of the shares one wants to purchase would go lower, or shorter.

Thanks to the crises and the space devoted to them in the media, many people had to go digging in 2008 for the meanings of hundreds of the 'financial words' and are hoping to be wiser in 2009. And the year is almost here.

Besides, there were terms like sub-prime, derivatives, CDS (credit default swaps), futures and options, Chapter 11 (a filing for bankruptcy in the United States), hedge funds, leveraging, repo and reverse repo, Libor, securitisation, SPIVs (special purpose investment vehicles), decoupling, and many more hogging the limelight.

Some innovative terms also entered the dictionary, such as staycation (spending a vacation staying at home due to cash crunch) and fakeaway (having home-made food assuming it to be take-away from a restaurant), along with TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program), write-down (of bad assets), unwinding (selling positions) and liquidity crunch.

The financial crisis also guided many such jargons, including stagflation, funt, Ninja loans and jingle mail, to dictionary expert Susie Dent's 100 Words of the Year, which has 'credit crunch' on the top for 2008.

At the same time, Merriam-Webster dictionary has chosen 'bailout' as the top word of the year for 2008. Besides, Oxford University Press, publisher of Dent's Words of the Year book, termed 'credit crunch' as word of the year and said it is 'the word that is on everyone's lips at the moment'.

"The world's financial markets have been one of the biggest generators of vocabulary in the past year. As fears of recession escalate, it may be productivity of the linguistic kind that is the safest bet," Dent said, adding that 'credit crunch' is an example of an established term being resurrected in the current circumstances.

While stagflation is a term of stagnant economic growth with rising inflation, Funt is a short form for financial untouchable, and Ninja loans stands for loans given to people with No Income, No Job, No Assets.

Jingle mail is described as returning the keys to a mortgage firm after occupant of the house is not in a position to pay the loan.

Some other new entries in the list are IPOD (acronym for insecure, pressured, over-taxed and debt-ridden), homedebtor (homeowner with a large mortgage that is unlikely to be ever paid), and exploding arm (floating home loan rate that soon rises beyond the borrower's ability to pay).

A number of media organisations in India and abroad came out with primers on these jargons to help people understand their meaning and implications, while Internet also proved to be a big help.

"With politics and economy foremost on the minds of many, it is no wonder that bailout -- a word ubiquitously featured in discussions of the presidency and fiscal policy -- took home honours as Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2008," the dictionary has announced.

Besides 'bailout' at the top, another word 'turmoil' also made to the Top Ten list of the dictionary for this year. Interestingly, not a single financial jargon was there in its Top Ten lists, ever since the dictionary started compiling them in 2003.

In previous years, there have been words like Facebook, Google, refugee, Tsunami, Blog, Hurricane, Democracy, Matrix, Slug and plagiarism in these lists.

About 'bailout', the dictionary says it is defined as "a rescue from financial distress" and it received the highest intensity of look-ups on Merriam-Webster Online over the shortest period of time. The financial issues, along with Presidential election, factored heavily in the concerns of its online visitors throughout the year, the dictionary adds.

All the top ten economy-related searches on Internet search engine major Google in 2008 had something to do with the economic crisis, and those search items in order of ranking were financial crisis, depression, bailout, mortgage crisis, Wall Street, oil, stock market, sub-prime, credit crisis and housing crisis.

Internet biggie Yahoo summarised economy-related searches on its search engine as "The $700-bn bailout. Foreclosures. The plummeting stock market. As 2008 came to a close, the nation's economic turmoil battled with the presidential election for the hearts of searchers."

Yahoo's top ten economy-related searches were IRS stimulus checks, oil prices, gold prices, gas prices, Dow Jones, Fannie Mae, stock market, AIG, foreclosures and debt consolidation.

According to AOL Search, the top ten news searches for the year included 'bailout' at the third place after the US Presidential election and Olympics. Besides, unemployment stood at fifth place, stock market at sixth, stimulus checks at eighth and high gas prices at the ninth place.

As the top ten 'financial faux pas' searches, AOL has named -- Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Goldman Sachs. These have become famous, after their failures or huge losses in the wake of economic crisis, not only in the US, but also across the world including India, where most of them did not have any direct presence.

In the wake of millions of jobs being eliminated by the companies, "How to write a resume" became the second most searched 'how to. . .' item for the year. When not searching for these jargons on the Internet, people were seen discussing whether their economy was in recession or was there just a slowdown.

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Barun Jha in New Delhi
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