The Language Of Economic Misfortune The dizzying economic situation is giving rise to novel phrases and appropriate expressions. The financial news includes colorful language describing a pretty bleak situation. It's practically baked in the cake.

The Language Of Economic Misfortune

Something that is "baked in the cake" is so interwoven in circumstances it cannot be fully extricated. Marcus Clackson/ hide caption

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Marcus Clackson/

Something that is "baked in the cake" is so interwoven in circumstances it cannot be fully extricated.

Marcus Clackson/

Desperate times call for disparate expressions. From the ashes of economic disappointment and disaster rise up novel ways of reasserting old truths. Watch CNBC or catch the financial news on NPR these days and you are liable to hear some very colorful language describing a pretty bleak situation.

"Whenever you have some sort of crisis — a war or a depression — there will be some fostering of new terminology," says Andrew Sparks, senior supervising editor at Webster's New World dictionaries in Cleveland. "That's how language works. You have to meet the needs of how the culture is changing."

The Great Depression, for instance, gave us the phrase, "Brother, can you spare a dime?" It comes from a 1931 song with lyrics by Yip Harburg. Now, the Recent Recession (which may morph into Great Depression 2.0) is also spurring its share of lively phrases. Along with now-familiar terms, such as "bubbles," "subprime" and "deleveraging," we have discovered, and rediscovered, a few exotic words and expressions:

'Baked In The Cake'

Definition: Something that is so interwoven in circumstances it cannot be fully extricated.

Example: "Even if the financial maelstrom may be about to abate, it is not over," Russell Jones, global head of fixed income and currency strategy at RBC Capital Markets, said recently. "A serious global recession is 'baked in the cake,' and this is bound to mean that there will be further pulses of risk aversion, further traumas for financial sectors and markets, and acute pain both for corporate sectors and for individuals."

'Cash Is King'

Definition: The idea is that cash is the only thing holding its value — and when stocks, bonds, real estate or other investment opportunities lose value and become bargains, the person with cash to spend will be in the catbird seat.

Example: Jeffrey Rosensweig, a professor of international business and finance at Emory University, told CNN that "Everyone is thinking that cash is king; banks don't want to let cash out."


Definition: In the present economic milieu, the term means that most investors have sold off just about everything they can and those who have the cash (remember, cash is king) begin to buy back into the market.

Example: "In my 48 years as a student of the markets, I've never seen fear at greater levels. And that's including Black Monday" on Oct. 19, 1987, Alfred E. Goldman, chief market strategist at Wachovia Securities, said recently. "What we thought was capitulation in the '60s, '70s and '80s is a tea party compared to what we've had."

'Pushing On A String'

Definition: The futility of trying to trying to move something by approaching it the wrong way.

Example: On NPR's News & Notes, Sean Masaki Flynn, author of Economics for Dummies, explained the expression to Farai Chideya this way: If you try to move something, you might tie string to it and then you pull the other end, but if you push at the string nothing happens. And so right now, the Federal Reserve has the following nasty problem: ... Even though the Fed is trying to push all this money at the banks, the banks aren't turning around and making loans out in the wider economy.

It is a problem so complicated and widespread, Flynn says, it elicits another colorful term: "liquidity trap."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.