Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CDOs + CDSs + IOUs = DOAs

Being a longtime technical editor, I've seen my share of acronyms (in many cases, actually initialisms). One of my favorites is FRACAS, which I encountered on a Department of Defense proposal many years ago. I believe it stood for "failure reporting analysis corrective action system." Or something like that. You have to figure someone threw that one in there just for fun, to make sure the bureaucrats were still reading. (My spilling the beans on this means some dire breach of international security, probably. Right.)

Well, Gretchen Morgenson of The Times (New York, not London) has laid out as well as anyone the whole mess behind the financial crisis. She refers to "collaterized debt obligations," or CDOs.

And "credit default swaps," or CDSs. (The big villain you hear about a lot. Will someone please just show me one? Just one? And tell me how much it is worth? Or was worth? Or was purported to be worth?)

Of course, at the heart of darkness in all of this was another abbreviated entity, American International Group, or AIG. (Among many other throbbing entities barely breathing.)

(You can see that I opt for the leaner style without the periods and apostrophes that some employ for my initialisms.)

It all adds up to IOUs that were dead on arrival, DOA.

The whole series of maneuvers almost made the whole financial system go IUD, or "I, Um, Die."

Incindentally, I'm the only one I know of to make this analogy: it's just like the steroids scandal in baseball. Everyone (fans, players, owners, media) looked the other way when it was fun, when they got something out of it (e.g. Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire in the homer race). Until it all "cratered," to use a John McCain verb that David Letterman has wonderfully lampooned.

Collateralized debt obligation? Here's where semantic seekers like myself could've saved the economy. A word like "collateralized" smells rotten. Anytime you see a noun turned into a loathsome verb or participle (verbal adjective) with that many syllables in it, you know you're in for a swindle.

Credit default swap? Whew. Sounds like a come-on line from a guy with a Hawaiian shirt and shades promising to commit a sexual infidelity the first chance he gets with his married neighbor sitting by the pool in her bikini.

"Hey, baby, you want to credit default swap? Check with your husband. See if he's into that."

It was all so much fun while the party lasted.


1 comment:

Mark Murphy said...

"It was all so much fun while the party lasted."

Or, as I like to think my mother (and many other mothers) would say:

"Sure, it's always fun -- until somebody loses an IRA!"