CRISIS-TALK

I’m now collecting examples of exotic, disturbing or infuriating post-Brexit language (and welcome contributions from readers, which will be gratefully acknowledged). Back in 2010 I reviewed the new terms generated by the recession that then afflicted us.

 

THE YEAR IN JARGON

 

We’re all familiar by now with quantitative easing, and bemused by all those recessionistas practising chiconomics…but the bizwords kept on coming…

Tony Thorne looks back at the terminology born of the downturn/meltdown

 

While things were going well it was commonplace to refer complacently to the hidden hand that Adam Smith claimed was quietly regulating the mechanisms of capitalism. Nowadays that concept seems as inappropriate as combining the two words ‘city’ and ‘gent’: the current sense of crisis requires a new set of metaphors and some picturesque contenders are duly emerging. Foremost among them is creative destruction, a phrase first popularised by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942. A much more radical version of the familiar shakeout, this has come to refer to the demolition of monopolies and economic structures by revolutionary innovation – including ‘revolutionary’ financial instruments and their resultant collateral/fallout.

Another term that has come into its own is boiling frog syndrome, apparently coined by one Leopold Stomm (described as a ‘political and economic theorist, amateur naturalist, and sadist’ but possibly fictional). This can be illustrated by the image of ‘frog’ X (insert the name of any major car manufacturer) ‘sitting in shallow water and denying that the temperature is rising’ – right up to the moment when it boils to death.

And what of the victims of economic turmoil, those senior professionals who have been Pluto’d (demoted, like the planet), lateralled (i.e kicked sideways; they are said to be suffering from adjacency), checked out (serving notice) or simply exited (which has replaced all those euphemisms formerly used in HR circles); what of the recently retired who have become the returned – in other words have been forced back into work? One humbling-but-uplifting option may be to take one of the thousands of green-collar jobs that the US and UK governments have promised to create. Successor to the white, blue and pink-collar (the last denoting supposedly ‘feminine’ jobs like beautician –sorry, cosmetologist – care assistant or florist), green-collar describes manual jobs in the ecological economy, usually involving cleaning up pollution or installing energy-saving devices. A quite different sort of comfort might be provided by going on a Ponzi crawl. Highlighted recently by the Madoff débâcle, the latest Ponzi scheme (named after an early 20th-century pyramid scamster of Italian origin) is a serial bar crawl in which the last to join has to treat all his/her fellow drinkers – and gets exactly nothing in return.

In trying to keep track of this year’s blizzard of buzzwords I’ve been helped out by readers of my previous offerings. From the US Nick Harrison writes to signal a new usage: the noun shutter has suddenly become a verb, signifying both closing down and boarding up, as in ‘Madam K’s is soon to shutter’, or ‘Granco has shuttered its operations’. He spotted four examples within four days from the Seattle Times, ‘…sole remaining daily paper in this town since the 150 year-old Post Intelligencer itself shuttered a month or so ago.’ Another novel Americanism yet to cross the oceans is shovel-ready, referring to a major project that is all set to go but awaiting public funding which may not now materialize.

In times of turmoil an upsurge in acronyms and abbreviations is only to be expected, and examples noted by correspondents include GFC (the Australian government’s own shorthand for global financial crisis) and CC which can stand for credit-crunch or current climate. Irish informant Ros Waverley has picked up on the fact that R.I.F, the euphemistic reduction in force(s) (aka downsizing) from a year or so ago, has first become an acronym pronounced ‘riff’, and more recently a verb, as in ‘we’re riffing’/’we’ve been riffed.’

Several readers were amused when Lord Mandelson testily insisted that his £2.5bn rescue package for the UK car industry was not a bailout (Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2008), but a greening initiative. Others were tickled by the portentous language governments have come up with to boost their anti-recessionary credentials: a little too late perhaps Australia has embraced countercyclicality, which simply means anticipating periodic economic downturns, while Britain has been promoting flexibilism; adapting your working practices to cope with unexpected crises.

I can’t help chuckling cynically at the latest catchphrases circulating among the cheerfully desperate – or desperately cheerful – flat is the new up is one such, while I heard someone the other day assert in all seriousness that we’ve got to take the HAV (high-altitude view) and look beyond the beyond. Thankfully professional trendspotters also remain resolutely upbeat, promoting something they call innovation jubilation, celebrating nimbleness (marketing’s successor to agility) and announcing the imminent appearance of the unlikely Generation G (for generous).

 

 

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