A Take on Language and the American Dream on Wall Street

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Financial marketplace rhetoric is unique and foreign to most outsiders who may have a newfound curiosity about the mentality and the jargon of Wall Street. After all, there is not much dispute about the role of mortgage-backed securities' traders in triggering the housing foreclosure crisis.

In his new book, “Words on the Street: Language and the American Dream on Wall Street,” Wall Street veteran Leo Haviland looks at his peers and the marketplace with the eyes of a cultural anthropologist who investigates “the language of the Wall Street jungle.”

Haviland focuses on the Wall Street language and its relationship to the American dream by studying the metaphors used—which have been borrowed from the worlds of games, love, war, politics, religion, the fine arts and natural physical science. The book shows “how artful Wall Street propaganda attracts and persuades investors and other players” to venture into their market of choice and most importantly: stay in the game.

“Though Wall Street often tries to benefit the public, it designs its influential rhetoric to harvest money from the public. Thus clever and delightful metaphors, reliance on American dream language, and a rationality edifice do not intend only to teach and impress others,” Haviland wrote. “Wall Street words want action. Its wordplay attempts to inspire people to buy and sell (and especially to buy) in Wall Street marketplaces.”

Traditionally market insiders tend to describe in their books the marketplace structure and instruments, recount economic history, or unveil personalities and strategies of individuals and institutions. The goal of his book, the author said, “is markedly different” as it is designed “to enlighten Wall Street professionals, Main Street audiences, policymakers and academics” alike about the wording and nuances of Wall Street talk, its economic wordplay and its implications.

The Wall Street jargon combined with the American dream rhetoric “reflect and shape marketplace perspectives,” he says, and thereby influence money management and “has major financial consequences for both Wall Street insiders and Main Street.”

“Words on the Street” is structured as an expose that Haviland hopes will contribute to changing people's viewpoints on marketplaces, investment risk-taking and dogmas related to investment. He provides a way of understanding stock, debt, foreign exchange and commodity marketplaces.

Topics include diverse metaphors, reasons for the variety of competing marketplace viewpoints and actions, investment wordplay and the role of the American dream.

Haviland has over 30 years of Wall Street trading experience including research and sales careers with Goldman Sachs and Sempra Energy Trading. As an author his stated goal is to give readers “a new and practical way of looking at economic and other cultural phenomena” in finance and provide an explanation of how cultural reasoning differs from scientific rationality.

“Many millions of Main Street dwellers around the globe have marched into and remained within Wall Street, often to invest,” said Haviland. “The recent worldwide economic crisis underlines the importance of Wall Street marketplaces, even for those who have not carried their own money directly to Wall Street tables.”