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October 4, 1998 - Slangman: Business Terms - 2002-02-12

INTRO: This week we're back to business with Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble, as they look at more words from the financial world.

MUSIC: "Daddy Made the Dollars (Mamma Made the Sense)"

AA: Daddy made the dollars, but mamma made the sense -- some country music that's right on the money for our subject today. I'm Avi Arditti.

RS: And, I'm Rosanne Skirble, and today we're going to make sense of some more words used on Wall Street -- the vocabulary if not the economics of the stock market these days.

AA: There's a lot of color in the language of business and finance. For instance, if your checkbook is "in the red," that means you have a negative balance. Not good. Or if a business is in the red that means it's losing money. We also hear expressions like in the black, big blue and blue chip.

RS: We asked David Burke for help in sorting out these economic terms. Mr. Burke is the author of "Biz Talk," a book for students of English as a foreign language, published by Caslon Books in Los Angeles.


"You want to be 'in the black.' That's a very good thing, because long ago, ledgers that accountants would use would have two different columns. In the black column, if you wrote something, that was good, that meant you were making money. But if you had to write something in the red column ... "

AA: That's not so good.


BURKE: "The 'blue chip,' that's actually from poker. The best chip you can get is the blue chip. 'Blue chip indicator,' we hear that a lot. That simply means it's one of the most expensive stocks you can buy. And 'big blue' -- that is IBM, because originally the IBM logo was blue. So it became known as big blue."

AA: "Speaking of ledgers, I guess that's also where the term 'bottom line' came from."

BURKE: 'That's right. In fact, that's interest how a lot of finance slang like 'bottom line' is used in everyday speech. You'll have something who's not in finance say, 'OK, give me the bottom line,' or they've made it into a verb: 'bottom-line me.'"

RS: "We have a mystery question for you. Not necessarily a mystery guest, but a mystery question -- who is Dow Jones?"

BURKE: "That's so funny. Who is this Dow Jones person?"

RS: Well, it turned out we stumped David Burke, author of "Biz Talk." But it was kind of a trick question!

AA: Dow Jones -- as in the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- is actually two people. Charles Dow was a reporter. He and Edward Jones began Dow Jones and Company in 1882 to provide business news. Later, they began publishing the Wall Street Journal.

RS: Looking at the New York Stock Exchange, Charles Dow decided that the change in value of a group of stocks would represent the general level of prices. Thus was born the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It's a daily measure of the average value of stocks from thirty major American industrial companies. And that list changes from time to time. On the first day it was published in 1896 the Dow closed at just forty-one points.

AA: These days we're hearing a lot about another market -- the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations System. Better known as Nasdaq. The Nasdaq is a composite index of mostly high-tech and biotechnology stocks. And while the Nasdaq is based in Washington, it's an electronic market -- there's no big, noisy trading floor.

RS: Finally, if you ever hear of the S-and-P 500, and wonder what that is, it's the Standard and Poor's broad index of 500 stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Standard and Poor's is a big investment information company.

MUSIC: "Fistful of Dollars"

AA: Now that we've solved those mysteries, let us know what problems you'd like us to uncover about American English.

RS: And if we use your letter on the air, we'll send you a VOA souvenir. We leave you with another song that ties in with our subject. It's the theme from that old Clint Eastwood movie "a Fistful of Dollars."

AA: Which of course is what everyone who plays the stock market hopes to end up with! Until next week, with Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.