If things were not bad enough for countries across Europe because of the ongoing economic crisis, they have just got a great deal worse thanks to the spawning of a particularly ugly new word.
Commentators around the globe now have a term to encapsulate the possibility of Greece exiting the Euro – they have called it a Grexit.
Apart from saving headline space for stressed sub-editors, it is hard to see what other function this word serves. It’s not pleasing on the ear, it takes a couple of seconds to work out what it actually means, and it’s frankly unnecessary – Greek Exit is hardly a term that was crying out to be shortened.
It is also not a word that can really be extended – if Spain or Portugal were to consider withdrawal, Spexit or Pexit just don’t cut it. But despite all of this, I expect it to become heavily used, while its prominence in the news cycle makes it likely to feature in many ‘Words of the Year’ lists.
The people I feel really sorry for are online webmail company Grexit, whose operation may now forever be tarnished by association with an economic crisis of which they are not a part. I do hope not. There are many casualties of the economic problems engulfing Europe at the moment. It would be a shame if a piece of linguistic nonsense claimed another.
Many industries appropriate words for their own devices, but their peculiar internal language doesn’t permeate through to the masses. But there are occasions when a piece of linguistic jargon breaks free, and the current financial crisis in the Eurozone is one such example.
All over the UK, newspapers have been debating – what do you think about the haircut?
Now you could be forgiven for thinking that this is no time to be focusing on coiffures and tints, and you would be right. But of course this isn’t really about a visit to the local salon. This is about well-established financial jargon hitting the mainstream.
Understanding it is somewhat harder. The online Financial Dictionary defines a haircut as the value to securities used as collateral in a margin loan. And lots of other stuff as well. I’ll be testing you on that shortly.
I have had it explained to me a lot more simply. Basically, if I lend you £100 and then take a 50% haircut, as the European banks have, I can only expect to get £50 back. Take that, securities and collateral.
But what has actually been irritating about the coverage is the way that haircut has been liberally sprinkled throughout media reports in a kind of knowing way, without it really being defined properly. It confers a kind of legitimacy on the writers and creates the sense that they are in the know and are experts. They must be, just look at the way they effortlessly use the jargon. Many journalists would have been a lot better just avoiding the term and finding a cleaner way to express their thoughts. Hiding behind the jargon is sometimes plain lazy.
But maybe Wordability should campaign for more haircut-related financial terminology to enter common speech. Should commentators have been discussing whether the European banks should have accepted a trim, a short-back and sides or maybe a perm? Who needs to talk in percentages when you can talk in split ends instead?
Or maybe another term connected with cutting things off would have been more appropriate. But I’m not sure that headlines about the kind of circumcision the banks were going to get would really have worked.