Friday, September 19, 2008

Wall Street Metaphors


I don't know how appropriate it is to speak of having a retirement-account (in the making) as a blessing. Perhaps privilege is a better word. Having one, however, I was among those interested in the reported demise of such instiutions as Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch and the consequent effects on the stock market.

As a reader and poet, however, I soon became interested in the language used to describe the events: tsunami, collapse, plunge, tidal wave, earthquake, hurricane, even Armageddon. Yikes.

Of course, "Wall Street" itself is a kind of metaphor. I believe it's a metonym, in which a part of something is used to describe that something, so that the White House is sometimes used to describe the Executive Branch or the presidency. "The White House said today that . . . ." Certainly, a stock market exists on Wall Street, but all those stocks and bonds exist in vaults somewhere or, more likely, they exist only on computer-chips. I "own" stock only because some letters and numbers on a screen or a piece of paper say I do. Yikes, the Sequel.

I like this term "correction," too. I think it's meant to sound soothing. "The housing-market is undergoing a correction," it is said, or "Expect the stock market to correct." When I pause to consider the word, though, I realize that a mistake has been made--one that needs correction. "They" would probably prefer that I think of a ship making a slight "correction" (adjustment) in its course.

"Bubble" has been around a long time in connection with markets. As far back as the 18th century, I think, there was a speculative "bubble" concerning British colonial investments. It's a pretty interesting metaphor. Investments become as molecules of gas, which create a bubble, which pops, and the investments go . . . into the air. I still don't know what to make of the term "hedge," applied to investments. I think it means that you put a hedge around your investments, but hedges have never seemed that durable or protective to me. They're things birds can penetrate, after all. "Hedge-fund" just doesn't sound right. "I've decided to invest in hedges--chiefly laurel and boxwood. What do you think?"

In some ways, the financial world seems and is so technical, all mathematics and statistics. But when even the alleged experts discuss "the market," they seem quickly to slip into metaphor-speak. Nonetheless, I don't think I'd necessarily argue for putting a poet in charge of AIG, for example. By the way, who or what insures insurance companies? I guess "we" do--people who pay taxes.
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