There’s a terrific article in The New Yorker.

It’s called ‘Money Talks’ by John Lanchester.

It’s about the way learning a terminology destroys thinking.

He describes how, in order to make certain financial practices more respectable, they are first described in metaphors.

Then the metaphor becomes terminology

Then the terminology becomes fact.

Which means no one ever questions it.

Hedge Fund is a good example.

In the early days, this simply meant betting both ways.

So you wouldn’t lose everything on a single bet.

You’d effectively put a ‘hedge’ or barrier around your investment.

You’d hedge your bets.

Hedge Funds sprang up, firms that were specialists in spreading your investments so you couldn’t lose.

But competition between them became fierce.

And financial return became more important than safety.

And hedge funds became places for increasingly exotic, and risky, investments.

In 2010 there were 7,200 hedge funds, 750 went bust.

In 2011 another 873 went bust, in 2012 another 904.

What went wrong was that no one questioned the term ‘hedge fund’.

Where was the hedge, the barrier, protecting the investment?

Another example Lanchester gives is the term ‘securities’.

Security originally meant making something safe.

But in finance, ‘security’ now means converting something into a tradeable asset.

And that tradeable asset can be anything.

From future royalties on David Bowie’s albums to flaky mortgages on low income houses.

Which is exactly what led to the worldwide financial crash of 2008.

So, not very secure.

But no one questioned the word ‘security’.

They learnt the terminology, and just accepted it as fact.

He gives other examples of terms that no one questions:

‘Credit’ now means debt.

‘Inflation’ actually means money is worth less.

‘Leverage’ strangely means borrowing money.

‘Synergy’ in fact means sacking people.

‘Bail out’ oddly means pouring money in.

And what was originally a series of metaphors to describe a process has become a terminology, then a fact.

And young people learning the trade believe they are learning facts.

Which is exactly the same as advertising.

To make it respectable, everything has been turned into terminology.

Which is impenetrable, so it can’t be questioned.

It can’t be questioned so it must be fact.

Listen to any meeting:

Brand audit, cluster groups, segmentation, penetration, CRM, SEO, CSR, ROI, KPI, UGC, integrated, transactional, native-advertising, value-added, differentials, core-competency, ideation, hygiene-factors, demographics, psychographics, profile-testing, deliverables, storytelling, narrow-casting, acquisition, content, data-capture, rate card, deep-dive.

How often do we question any of that terminology?

But if we don’t question it we can’t understand it.

We’re just learning it parrot fashion.

And we lose focus on the purpose of what we’re supposed to be doing.


To make ordinary people pay attention, and remember what we said.