Word of the Week! Volatility

This post, so close to the end of the academic year, begins a new series focused on words that every undergraduate should know from the realms of business and economics. I’ve covered one before, amortize, but that’s rarely a concept needed in one’s 20s.

So I’ve asked faculty and professionals for words that they feel every undergrad needs. Kristopher Olexy, of Capitol Financial Solutions, recommended this term and another I will cover here soon.

Why begin with volatility now? We live in volatile times. You’ll find a good entry on the term at the OED, yet it does not capture Mr. Olexy’s sense of market volatility. He means rapid and unpredictable movements of the stock markets. As a long-term investor I don’t tend to panic with the DOW drops, but many ups and downs in he broader S&P 500 can give me the jitters.

So what does “market volatility” mean? I turn to an investment source for beginners, from Fidelity International:

when a market or security experiences periods of unpredictable, and sometimes sharp, price movements.

People often think about volatility only when prices fall, however volatility can also refer to sudden price rises too.

Let’s see how the S&P has done over the past year, using data from Bloomberg’s free market charts: year-to-date return? Down more than 12%!

Should I panic? When I look at the one-year return, there’s an increase of 1.32%, not enough to outpace inflation but rosier than that big drop. And the five-year return? Nearly 92%. Now I feel good.

So has the past year been one of market volatility? If so, why?

It looks volatile. If you’ve not been under a rock, factors driving volatility include the war in Ukraine, the lingering pandemic, associated supply-chain and labor shortages, political turmoil in the United States, energy prices.  All these variables, the Fidelity site notes, increase volatility.

While I’d rather live in boring times, we have to play the market we have, as investors large or small. My students recently expressed their love for crypto-currencies, an investment vehicle I would not touch with your money. But they are young and can take a greater risk on a very volatile market for crypto. I won’t. Stocks can be unsettling enough.

Aside from that, what should a college student know about market volatility? Not panicking at a first drop in prices is one. Volatility is normal, within reason. It’s also good to accept more of it when young, because too few grads start investing early enough (I did not until my 30s). Imagine putting a few hundred away in one’s 20s, each month, and seeing that blossom into hundreds of thousands by retirement, in addition to other investing and despite volatility.

So I tell college grads not “plastics,” the mantra from the coming-of-age film The Graduate. I tell them to “start investing now. Volatility is okay at 20. At 60, you might lose sleep over it.”

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

Word of the Week! Blackberry Winter

BlackberriesUntil a week ago, I did not know this phrase. Singer-songwriter James McMurtry, son of two renowned wordsmiths, used it on stage but didn’t explain what the “old timers” meant by it. He has an ear for language that seems on the verge of disappearing.

Since I write this post on a day of Blackberry Winter, let’s explore the idea.  First, I’m surprised that the OED has this regional colloquialism in its pages online. What the definition does not explain, however, concerns the usefulness of a day like today, that last cold-snap before the agony of our region’s hot, humid summer (I detest humidity and prefer cold weather to hot).

The term has its first recorded usage in the 19th Century, so it’s new by linguistic standards. But the idea is old: a late cold front reportedly can help blackberries “set” on their canes, to insure an abundant harvest. Readers can find other “little winters” discussed in this entry at a gardening blog.

I’m a minority in my preferences for cold and snow. So be it. I hope we’ll remember that a cold snap has salutary effects on our food supply, just as those humid July nights make certain a red tomato. If you only know food from the grocery store, it’s worth pondering. Here’s to our Blackberry Winters and Red-Tomato Summers.

If you want to  hear McMurtry sing about a Blackberry Winter, here it is.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Word of the Week! Sybaritic

Theatre of Sybaris

Here’s a term (a metaphor, really) that I misunderstood. For the longest time, I believed that it implied sensual decadence, the sort we might associate with gluttons and pornographers. In other words, hedonism.

Wrong. Though excess is possible for sybarites, my guide to a more nuanced meaning of our word comes from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s excellent, three-volume account of a walk he took from The Hook of Holland to Constantinople. I’ve finished volumes one and two, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and The Water. Simply put, Leigh Fermor proved himself one of the finest travel writers of the 20th Century, among other things all starting with the letter P: polymath, prodigy for languages, patriot. You’d do well to pick up his books.

And yes, he was a sybarite who enjoyed drinking, art, natural scenery, and beautiful women. No wonder James Bond and Indiana Jones are said to have a bit of Fermor in them.

As a commando in the Second World War, his fluency in both German and Cretan Greek was so prodigious (another P) that he led a team of commandos disguised as German officers who captured Major General Heinrich Kreipe. While waiting for a boat to Egypt, Fermor and Kriepe sat in a cave, passing the time by smoking cigarettes and spouting lines of verse at each other in ancient Greek.

But like the man himself, I digress. Fermor’s digressions go on for pages, but they entertain. I’m not sure that a dissertation on Sybaris, an ancient Greek city in southern Italy “noted for its effeminacy and luxury” in the words of the OED entry, would prove even a shadow of Fermor’s words.

We today recoil at the use of “effeminate” in a pejorative, even misogynistic sense. In Fermor’s reckoning, however, anyone can enjoy good food, drink,  art, or the company of witty, beautiful people. I remain uncertain about how the prosperous Greek city came to be associated with decadent enjoyment. Jealousy, perhaps, of the wine cellars and good life to be  had in Sybaris? I’d prefer life there to, say, Sparta. Both cities are curious ruins today: perhaps that too is a warning about the virtues of moderation?

Yet forget moralizing and think luxurious thoughts for April, perhaps our most sybaritic month of all.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

 

Word of the Week! Kerf

Table Saw BladeFor the past month, I have been cutting wood with a table saw, a jigsaw, and a compound miter-box saw. I’m a competent if not expert carpenter. So in this age of high prices for materials, I decided that wooden weather-board siding made at home would be cost-effective and beautiful for a porch we turned into a three-season room.

This sounds like my blog about rural life, Tractorpunk, but I’m not going to focus on DIY here, fun though it is. I’m going to focus on a concept and word that merit wider use.

As the photo (thanks, Wikipedia) indicates, a saw-blade removes material as it moves through wood. In carpentry we call that the “kerf” and if one saws hundreds of boards, as I have done, the kerf adds up in big piles of sawdust.

Do readers see the potential for a new metaphor here, one as fresh as the smell of sawdust and far better than that once-wonderful cliche “death by a thousand paper-cuts”?

The OED entry on our word traces it to Old English cyrf, as well as Old Norse a current Icelandic terms; in Iceland a kerfi is a bundle of twigs. All the words refer to a cut, the act of making one, or the result.

If kerf becomes more widely used, I’d use it this way: what gets lost when cuts get made? Thus: “Remind Mister Horrible that laying off these recently hired workers may appear wise, but the long-term kerf will be bad for our bottom line.”

What do you think about kerfs and kerfing? How might this word enjoy wider usage without your losing a finger in a table saw? Seriously. Use new words widely, but don’t use any of the tools I mentioned without a mentor. We cannot fix those kerfs.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Word of the Week! Hiatus

If you wonder where this blog has been, it’s been stuck in my head while I lay in bed with COVID-19.

Folks, you don’t want to get it. Really. My recovery to full strength is going to take weeks.

Thus, the hiatus.

And what is this odd-sounding word?  And why don’t we have other words in the language that sound like it?

The etymology proves straightforward enough. As The OED has it charted out, we have a Latin loan-word. Scholars of the language, please send me other homonyms that came across intact.

As for meaning, it’s a gap. The order of definitions surprises me, as I’ve thought of the gap in chronological terms, as in “between her two terms as mayor, she enjoyed a ten-year hiatus from local politics while leading a local law firm.”

The first definition given, however, involves a break in a material object, as with a hole in a wall. Sounds very odd to say “we crept through the hiatus in the old wall.”

But there it is. If you have other loan-words from Latin that rhyme with this one, send them, as with other words and metaphors of note, to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Hole in wall courtesy of Wikipedia. It looks like how I feel.

 

 

Word of The Week! Bombogenesis

NOAA satellite image Here’s a new word, first noted in 1989 by The OED’s entry. It’s an apt term for human-generated climate change! First we had an A-Bomb, then an H-Bomb to trouble our sleep.

Now we have bombogenesis, “a rapid and sustained fall of barometric pressure. . .indicative of the strengthening of the cyclone into a powerful storm; also called explosive cyclogenesis.” NOAA’s web site as a fine description of the phenomenon. It’s also brief, a rarity for such a complex concept.

Call it what you will, but if you live in New England or Atlantic Canada today, you have experienced the forces behind our word, first-hand. I just spoke to my cousins in New Brunswick who were bracing for the arrival of the deep snow and blizzard conditions that accompany bombogenesis.

I’ve heard the less Latinate “Bomb Cyclone” and certainly, other synonyms must exist. As a person who loves snow and cold and hates hot, humid weather, I’ll take bombogenesis over malarial miasma, any day.

Stay warm and dry. Send me words and metaphors by leaving a comment below, or by e-mail at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Public domain image via NOAA’s photo-stream at Flickr.

Word of the Week! Astonished

Jousting KnightWhen I was a UVA undergrad, each of my circle of friends encountered Mallory’s epic Le Morte D’Arthur, and then we ran about using words such as “brain-pan” for skull and the verb “astonied,” for dumbfounded or stunned, as in this sentence:

And therewithal, Sir Uwaine gat his spear in his hand and rode toward Sir Launcelot, and Sir Launcelot knew him well, and so he met him on the plain, and gave him such a buffet that he was astonied, that long he wist not where he was.

Most modern readers should be able to make sense of the passage, noting, for instance, that the “buffet” does not involve all-you-can-eat Cantonese food. Yet only recently did it occur to me that this “astonied” proves to be a linguistic ancestor to our modern “astonished,” a word I’ve long enjoyed.

We have lots of words and metaphors that express surprise: dumfound, stun, amaze, black swan, bolt out of the blue, even ambush. Some of these have negative connotations, but of them “astonish” and “amaze” seemed unalloyed in their sense of something wondrous.

At least until you get knocked off your horse in a joust. So I looked for guidance at the Online Etymology Dictionary, a well-designed, free resource for those without access to The OED. If we reach back to “astonied,” it’s not to lie there on the ground like a stone, but to be thunderstruck (from the Vulgar Latin extonare). From it we got the Old French estoner to cross the Channel in the year 1066, as William The Conqueror split brain-pans and left many Anglo-Saxons astonied by their reversal of fortune.

I would be astonished if more of today’s undergrads went around saying things like “Wit ye well, varlet! My brain-pain hath taken a terrible buffet, and I’m all astonied.” But time marches on, and I don’t know too many who still read Mallory.  If I’m wrong, I wist it not, and I’d love to hear from you.

You can send me words and metaphors by having  your squire ride with the missive to my castle, by leaving a comment below, or by e-mail at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Jousting Knight courtesy of Public Domain Vectors

Word of the Week! Phildickian

This one was nominated by reader Leslie Rose III. It’s time, as the fiction of Philip K. Dick really describes the times we endure.

I have featured a post about J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence and the adjective it generated, as well as other others who have earned that status. Dick merits it; I simply wish “Dickensian” were not already taken, as “Phildickian” does not roll off the tongue. Nor does it seem common enough to appear in dictionaries yet.

That said, let’s look at a blog post with Cory Doctorow’s fine reasoning for why our world is “best viewed through the lens of Philip  K Dick (whose books repeatedly depicted a world of constructed realities, whose true nature was obscured by totalitarians, conspiracies, and broken computers) and not Orwell or Huxley, whose computers and systems worked altogether too well to be good parallels for today’s janky dystopia.”

Janky? That needs a post, too, but Doctorow’s reasoning seems spot-on perfect. Why, in the midst of a pandemic, do I get a little paper card from the CDC, something easily forged by paranoid and selfish anti-vaxxer types, proving that I have been inoculated and boosted? Why do that, when the government was perfectly capable of printing a DEBIT card, complete with chip and magnetic stripe, for a handout from a former President’s incompetent administration? Why do some patently insane conspiracy theories, left and right, persist?

Why?

Because we live in a janky dystopia where things are not as them seem. Not the other three types of dystopias outlined in this brilliant piece at Medium. Things break, or we get lied to. Bait-and-switch games abound, even from those we grant great power.

Dick’s fiction hit its apex in the equally janky and run-down 1970s, but today things rhyme with that decade, though we have more dangerous cartoon-figures with totalitarian intent, who may or may not be fully human, waiting in the wings.

Dick was not always the best stylist, since he cranked out prose by the boatload under the influence of paranoia and drug abuse, but his best work should endure. Riley Scott did a good job with the Director’s Cut of the original Blade Runner of capturing Dick’s world. That should help the fiction stay in print.

And perhaps we’ll get a better adjective, if not a less Phildickian world. The irony of this post running on the day we commemorate a great man, Martin Luther King Jr., could not be more revealing of the gap between where we should be and where, sadly, we are.

Be sure to send me words and metaphors of use in academic settings, or merely intriguing, to me by leaving a comment below or by e-mail at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Cover image from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth.

 

Word of the Week! Potsherd

The recent snowstorm proven a bit rough for us. It could have been worse, of course. Instead of entire trees coming down, we lost huge limbs as big around as my thigh. They crashed down doing little damage to buildings or objects, save for some terra-cotta planting pots that instantly became potsherds.

You’ve seen them in museums. I discovered recently that our Classics Department now displays several beautiful pieces of pottery in our building; I’m certain they also have drawers full of potsherds. And yet, for the longest time, I called these bits of broken pottery “potshards,” because a shard is a broken bit of something, true?

So, I discovered, is its ancestor, a shoord (Middle English) as well as its even older ancestor, a sceard (Old English). So we are still using a Middle English word, when we say “potsherd.” I suspect, with some resignation, that we all will say “shard” in a century, though I will not be present to hear that change. It has changed before; The OED lists pot-shoord, potsherde, pot sharde (as well as pot-shards) and Spencer’s “potshares” as antique spellings. A round 1800 the spelling settled down, like a sherd under a layer of clay, to our present form.

So when a purist talks about the fallen state of the English language in the time of our dopamine-dispensers also known at smart phones, remind the purist that language has been changing for millennia. Otherwise, when I wished you a Happy New Year, I would say “Glæd Nīwe Gēar Gesǣlig Nīwe Gēar.” Thanks to Omniglot for that translation.

Glæd Nīwe Gēar Gesǣlig Nīwe Gēar, all! Be sure to send me words and metaphors of use in academic settings, or merely intriguing, to me by leaving a comment below or by e-mail at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Creative-Commons image of potsherds courtesy of Wikipedia.

Word of the Week! Risible

 

Monty Python Pontius PilateJoe Hoyle, as usual, sends an excellent word from his office in our School of Business. Professor Hoyle picks a term I have read but never explored. Now I plan to use it, because right now we could use anything related to laughter.

My erroneous sense of our word had been that such laughter comes from derision, mockery, or scorn. Bitter laughter, if you will. But I was wrong, so let’s look at the OED for guidance.

The word has Latin and French roots, like so many good words we have taken into English. The definitions on offer include no sense of derisiveness, simply a situation that provokes laughter.

Even a cursory Google search shows that risible coexists with words such as “comic,” “absurd,” and “ridiculous.”  Why use “funny” when each word has its own nuances? That variety and flexibility remain glories of English, when well employed. “Risible” sounds more formal, so when one wishes to elevate the diction of a sentence, it outranks “laughable” and gentles the sentiment of something ridiculous.  It’s almost genteel, even when Ponitus Pilate, in Monty Python’s retelling of the story, uses the word to berate a Roman Centurion about a tragically named friend of Pilate’s. It’s risible fun from a bunch of over-educated Brits.

Think for a bit about all of the synonyms we have for things that are funny. Then try a few new ones in your vocabulary.

Please send interesting  words and metaphors and send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image: Scrween Cap fwom life of Bwian.