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How to Speak Money

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How to Speak Money

What the Money People Say – and What It Really Means

W.W. Norton,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Money has enormous effects on your life. Can you speak its language?

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Writer John Lanchester makes a stark point when he conjures the image that a widespread sewer disaster might compel members of the general public to learn plumbing jargon. The same imperative applies to the language of finance following the 2008 system breakdown. Generally, the authors of dictionaries go to great lengths to create word definitions that are precise and neutral in meaning. In contrast, Lanchester offers a primer on economic thinking, along with a broad lexicon that includes the specific meanings of technical terms and translations of often-used idioms that can baffle even the most literate nonspecialists. From the very start, he is open about his own biases, but he nonetheless provides informative explanations of esoteric terms and perplexing figures of speech. getAbstract recommends this resource, which covers more than 300 terms, to anyone who deals with money and especially to newcomers to finance and economics.


“The Language of Money”

Language is a tool of communication in all areas of life. The practitioners in various professions generally use their inside language for the sake of accuracy and efficiency. For instance, most people do not need or want to know why a plumber chooses one tool over another to fix a leaky faucet. But people can also use jargon, or specialized terms, intentionally to exclude outsiders from conversations. Sometimes experts in certain industries want to protect their status by using their own lingo. But words and phrases also can entrench a particular worldview. For instance, they can organize society according to economic beliefs, such as “wealth trickles down.” Trusting in experts makes life easier for most people, until disaster strikes. If a widespread sewer failure occurred, everyone would need to learn plumbing terms. The 2008 financial crisis rained calamity on the general public. Now, those who learn the language of money can help protect themselves in the future by participating in dialogues and forming their own opinions. People need greater knowledge about the economy and the financial system to “make informed democratic decisions” and...

About the Author

John Lanchester is the author of the best-selling exposé of the 2008 financial crisis, I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. He also is a fiction writer and contributor to The London Review of Books and The New York Times, among other media outlets.

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