#FinSci: How We Talk When We Talk About Finance

“Even I went down a path of reckless spending before finally waking up.”

Fiscal Cliff

The Economy’s Trajectory in 2013

Metaphors are…

How do we talk when we talk about finance? In metaphors. Metaphors are so ingrained in our language that it’s hard to recognize when we’re using them or even do something about it when we do. We use metaphors to talk about abstract things, like time, mood, or finance, and most of the time, they’re helpful.

In the examples above, its spatial metaphors that dominate the linguistic landscape–a landscape where up is good, down is bad. Cliff’s are bad, for example. Plummeting is worse. Climbing, however, is good. But Soaring is better. Why do these metaphors dominate the language of finance? How are these metaphors affecting you and your clients?

…best taken with a grain of salt.

wile-e-coyote-fiscal-cliff

Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with metaphors. In fact, they’re often quite useful. My problem is with a specific type of metaphor, the sensational metaphor–ahem, Fiscal Cliff–that I find troubling. They’re in part to blame for the CNBC Effect, and they permeate the parlance of modern finance.

My only aim is to make you aware of this strange habit of language. My hope is that you might notice when you are being reckless with your metaphors, and, in turn, inform others of their rash lexicon. Another benefit of having read this might be a newfound ability, an ability to calm clients who are upset with you. You can now pinpoint the reason they are so convinced by what they see, hear, and read. It’s the language, not the numbers, that they’re all riled up about.

 This post was inspired by a podcast, Lexicon Valley, which you can find here: http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/lexicon_valley.html
DJ DJ is a freelance writer, hopeful photographer, and social media has-been. He writes to financial advisors about lifehacks, science, technology, business and marketing for Blueleaf, a software that helps create dramatically simpler, more scalable financial advisory businesses. You can find DJ across the web (about.me/djswitz) or you can just follow him on Twitter (@djswitz)!
  • I agree totally. In addition to metaphors, I think paranoid journalism has permeated our society. Clients wait for the 6pm news to see what new financial dangers are lurking. It’s really quite depressing because in order to grow this economy, we have to restore our faith. We can’t do that if we are always chasing the next depressing event.