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Editor's column: Crisis depletes supply of descriptive words
One unforeseen consequence of the economic crisis is the shortage of verbs and adjectives as reporters use the same handful of words over and over to describe the financial carnage.
For example, on Thursday we checked various reports of that day's poor stock market performance, counting the first five descriptive words from each source. Here's what the highly-educate East Coast reporters from elite colleges churned out.
Associated Press: Slid, tumbled, dropped, fell, plunged.
Bloomberg News: Tumbled, sank, plunged, slumped, lost.
Cnn.moneycom: Plunged, fell, fell, fell, lost.
Financial Times: Dipped, slumped, fell, dipped, fell.
New York Times: Tumbled, dropped, skidded, lost, fell.
What, don't these people have a thesaurus? Well, if you check your computerized thesaurus, you will find they're not much good, as one word is used as a synonym for the other. Try to find another word for tumble, and it recommends plunge or fall. Look up plummet, and the results are a little better: crash and nosedive. But readers of financial news know those words are used frequently as well.
We're only in our sixth month of financial crisis, but already we're all sick of tumbled, plunged, fell, dipped, skidded, etc. Besides, it's hard to know what they mean. Presumably, if you're a stock, it's better to skid than plummet, and slumping is better than tumbling, but there's no way to know for sure. Some reporters use plummet when a stock decreases by 10 percent, while others say it simply fell, saving plummet for something more drastic. One writer's tumbled is another writer's skidded, while yet another might see only a dip. Perhaps stocks that the writer personally owns are seen to tragically plunge, while stocks the other fellow owns only fall or dip.
Financial reporters need some new descriptive words, and they need them now. We could make some up. The stock frumped sounds pretty bad. Nobody would want their stock to dizzle slightly, and it might be catastrophic if the stock gurgitated, murgled or glubbered. But these words would take a while to become accepted, and the crisis could be over before they're in vogue.
It would be better to fashion new words out of well-known names, as pioneered by Charles Ponzi, a swindler who became famous for the Ponzi scheme. Before him, there were just schemes, but his was so good that his name went down in history. Scheming is fine, after all it's the backbone of the modern economy, but if you Ponzi scheme you're a real crook.
There are plenty of recently-infamous financial names that could become parts of today's financial speech. A stock that's going nowhere could be called a Bush, and a stock that looks good at first, but then falters, could be an Obama. Reporters could write, "The stock bushed early, but then totally obamaed at the close."
* The stock bernanked this morning, sending hopes soaring (meaning some fool like Ben Bernanke invested a lot of money in a loser).
* The stock market paulsoned today (meaning it massively crashed, like everything did under Henry Paulson).
* Investors, tired of being bushed, obamaed, bernanked and paulsoned, took to the streets today, burned what money they had left, and decided to live the buffett life from now on. Not Warren . . . Jimmy.