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Credit crunch

It melts in the mouth

Is it just me, or does “credit crunch” sound like a type of biscuit?1 Perhaps “credit crunch” is preferred to alternative constructions — say, “credit crash” or “debt disaster” – for the same that depressions were renamed recessions in the 20th century, as dsquared (who, disappointingly though for excellent reasons, is refusing to talk about crunchy news at the moment) informed us a while back. No need to make a scary situation even scarier by saying out loud how scary it is.

As it happens, the term was already in use as long ago as 1967, when the Chicago Tribune printed the headline, spooky in hindsight: “Fannie Mae Boss Fears Credit Crunch“. Google News’s timeline of the phrase shows another spike of usages in the early 1990s, until the modern flurry begins around August 2007.

No doubt there is all sorts of interesting Unspeak being engineered for the current crisis2. John Quiggin over at CT has been kind enough to prod me, pointing out the current appeals to some weird notion of a “clean bailout”, which puts me in mind of something to do with filtering bilgewater, though I am not a seaman so can’t quite see that one through. I did notice that, in the context of the US Treasury buying out the banks’ toxic “assets”, a “reasonable price” has been redefined as “a price higher than anyone in their right mind actually wants to pay”, which I suppose goes to show that “reasonable” is (as always) a moveable feast. What other financial Unspeak have you noticed recently, readers?

  1. I used to be very fond of Cottage Crunch biscuits, so maybe it’s just me.
  2. In Chinese, as everyone knows, the word for “crisis” is formed from the characters for “Holy shit!” and “Pour me another drink”.
19 comments
  1. 1  DanH  September 25, 2008, 3:31 pm 

    This is the third time in the last few hours that I’ve wheeled out a JK Galbraith quote, which I think this is some sort of record, even for me. I think it’s my favourite, too.

    “Even the word depression itself was the terminological product of an effort to soften the connotation of deep trouble. In the last century, the term crisis was normally employed. With time, however, this acquired the connotation of the misfortune it described.”

  2. 2  richard  September 25, 2008, 4:53 pm 

    The collapse of financial markets can’t be all bad if it means Steven returns to blogging, however briefly.

  3. 3  John Quiggin  September 25, 2008, 10:45 pm 

    Then of course, “depression” was replaced by “recession”. The euphemism treadmill seems to have stopped there.

    That’s partly because “recession” actually has a precise definition – not the supposed “technical’ definition of two quarters of negative growth but “whatever, in retrospect, the NBER Business Cycle Dating committee decides was a recession”.

  4. 4  Steven  September 26, 2008, 12:24 am 

    I did wonder if we might see “slowdown” extended indefinitely to cover what no one wants to call “recession”.

    As for “negative growth”, what is wrong with the straightforward “shrinkage”?

  5. 5  Hey Zeus  September 26, 2008, 12:22 pm 

    Whether it’s a clean bail-out or a dirty one the phrase at least indicates that the ship is sinking.

    It’s unclear to me whether it is preferable for an bank to sink or run aground. Life is, indeed, a beach.

    Will we begin to mean something new when we tell someone a fact they can “bank” on?

  6. 6  Daniel F  September 26, 2008, 5:56 pm 

    Seinfeld fans know all about shrinkage.

  7. 7  Aenea  September 27, 2008, 2:26 pm 

    Speaking as a very amateur sailor, when the bilge is getting too full, you don’t care whether it’s dirty or clean. You just bail for your, well not life usually, just dry clothes. :P

  8. 8  dsquared  September 28, 2008, 3:06 pm 

    1. My grandmother apparently asked my mum whether I was doing alright in “this credit crumble”, a phrase I have now made my own.

    2. Surely this is as good a pretext as any to bring up Alfred Kahn, a Carter administration economist who was told by White House press aides to stop using the word “recession” as it was too negative, and thus gave speeches announcing “we’re in danger of seeing the worst banana in 45 years”.

  9. 9  Jeff Hussein Strabone  September 30, 2008, 11:41 pm 

    My winner for most Unspeakish financial euphemism is ‘mortgage-backed security’. There is little about them that provides security, backing, or anything resembling a proper mortgage.

  10. 10  Aenea  October 1, 2008, 10:36 am 

    Oh btw, officially freaked out over here about the shit that went down the other day. Can’t believe Congress actually found a backbone. And believe you me, the ruling elite (Steevun would have such a better world for elite!!) do not like it one bit!!

    Oh, ‘bourgeois’? Does that fit?

    Dan.

  11. 11  Harry Barney  October 1, 2008, 2:53 pm 

    Great blog, coruscating as always…

    There are lots of other interesting campaign groups at the following website (and I note Unspeak is on there too):

    Million Campaign Homepage
    http://www.millioncampaignhomepage.net

  12. 12  Steven  October 1, 2008, 7:37 pm 

    I love “credit crumble”, especially with a light dusting of sugar and a blob of ice cream.

    Of course “mortgage” means death pledge.

  13. 13  Steven  October 2, 2008, 7:57 pm 

    Excitingly, “credit crunch” has been chosen as OUP’s “Word of the Year“, even though it’s not a word.

  14. 14  Guano  October 4, 2008, 7:46 pm 

    Does “bail-out” have its origin in

    - getting water out of a boat in a hurry?
    - jumping out of a moving vehicle that’s about to crash?
    - paying to get someone out of jail while waiting for the trial?

    I rather hope that it’s the latter, because the implication is that there will be a trial.

  15. 15  thea  October 9, 2008, 9:31 am 

    Ah, what wouldn’t I give for a bite of that credit crumble. Still, it has to take second place to this delicious confection from the Guardian blogs:

    [Deleted by moderator]

  16. 16  thea  October 9, 2008, 9:39 am 

    Bloggers have to take breaks, okay, but please don’t make the next one so long.

  17. 17  Steven  October 9, 2008, 3:23 pm 

    I promise to make it longer if you continue to reproduce doggerel from Guardian comment threads here.

  18. 18  thea  October 10, 2008, 12:07 am 

    Okay to just delete the credit crunch poem I posted, in that case. In fact, would you please do that?

  19. 19  Steven  October 10, 2008, 12:41 am 

    Your wish is my command.



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