The language of passing the buck

8 Jul

I guess this could also be called Fifty Shades of Plain Fact, since it seems like our banking system has systematically applied a liberal interpretation to the definition of what a fact is for the last five years, maybe even longer.  But until the last week this went on far more behind closed doors; however events of the last week have brought the world of high finance into our living rooms, quite literally in many cases, since the money we pay to banks each month to sit in those living rooms is likely to have been artificially inflated through what appears to be a variety of causes (it really depends on whose perspective you’re viewing as to what those causes are).

What has fascinated me throughout the whole thing, though, has been the language that has been used firstly to drive the artificial inflation in the first place, and secondly to rush from responsibility for it.

If you look at the stages of disintegration, what you see first is an adolescent vocabulary consistent with the sort of language used by those in that most irresponsible of decades, the teenage years.  This to me suggests that those using it were not considering their effect on the real world, by which I mean the one that we paying mortgages and our full tax quota live in, but playing some sort of game where it was okay to behave like a only-just-not-child because none of the potential ramifications would apply to them.

I quote: “duuuude… what’s up with ur guys 34.5 3m fix… tell him to get it up!” – Barclays trader to trader from another bank in relation to three-month dollar Libor.  I hardly need to point out the bizarre fact that wording was used in an allegedly professional environment.  Duuuude, where’s my car?  You get the picture.

Then, as time passes and things get a bit sticky, it’s back to landed gentry hunting, shooting language (and probably fishing as well, but I couldn’t find a reference to it anywhere).  The landed gentry, of course, also don’t tend to believe that the rules that constrain the rest of us apply to them.  The Libor rate, apparently, was lowered to be “within the pack”, rather than “stick its head above the parapet”.

Then we turn to my very favourite terminology, that of the abdication of responsibility.  In life, this drives me bonkers, and there have been so many examples of the kind of phraseology that makes me spit feathers over the last week.

Firstly, there’s the senior Barclays treasury manager who said: “We’re clean, but we’re dirty-clean, rather than clean-clean.”  I don’t think this is actually possible.  If either of my children are ‘dirty-clean’, I consider it bathtime.  Last time I looked, these words can be defined as opposites, and are in primary schools across the land.  So either this person didn’t pay attention in junior school, or it is another example of the fact that such people seem to believe that ‘dirty-clean’ is okay, acceptable, within limits.  Surely, it isn’t.

And finally, the language used by the most senior members of the Barclays team to explain away their actions.  All of last week was full of those ‘whoops’ words where it was just a case of something going slightly askew rather than a complete, total swerve off the route of ‘the right thing to do’.

Apparently it was a ‘miscommunication’ from the Bank of England that drove the downward instruction within the bank to lower the Libor rate.  Of course, that downward instruction was also one long chain of miscommunication, because no-one actually said that it was okay to do that, it was – and here’s one of the other most favourite words – a ‘misunderstanding’.

And finally, let’s not forget that Bob Diamond’s apparent admission of responsibility was couched in exceptionally circumlocutious language to get to the ‘w’ word at the very end of the whole sentence.  I have rarely seen so many caveats in one paragraph, and I’ve written a few heavily caveated statements myself over the last decade: “Even taking account of the abnormal market conditions at the height of the financial crisis, and that the motivation was to protect the bank, not to influence the ultimate rate, I accept that the decision to lower submissions was wrong.”



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