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November 18, 2008

Rescue Plan Linguistics: A Bailout by Any Other Name

1112dv_paulson_treasury.jpgAttempts to euphemize the $700 billion bailout seem to have been largely unsuccessful so far.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal , and NPR all continue to refer to a "bailout" in their headlines, even if they use more formal terminology later on in their stories, while a Google Blog Search produces nearly 1 million results for the same term.

Part of the difficulty with the implementation of the plan may be because of the alternatives we've given to "bailout."

Take "Troubled Asset Relief Program." While the American economy is definitely in need of relief, what exactly are troubled assets? Are they more like troubled waters, or troubled minds? Do we build bridges over them, or send them for counseling? "Toxic assets" seems much closer to the mark, though the word "worthless" does occur to a mind that insists on calling a spade a bloody shovel.

And then there's the acronym "TARP." One generally spreads a tarp over things to protect them. Fine, insofar as it goes, but a tarpaulin protects things by covering them up. Frankly, a bailout sounds more above-board than a cover-up.

More than a year ago, the banks tried to stave off debt problems by creating a "Super SIV." To the non-investor, that sounds like a weapon.

As for the "Master Liquidity Enhancement Conduit," that sounds like something you might need that bloody shovel to dig through.

There are probably more reasons than bad brand naming that necessitated more drastic measures a year later, but we have to wonder if nominal polymorphism contributes to the continual redefinition of the 2008 bailout plan.

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Posted by Diane Prange at November 18, 2008 8:48 AM
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