"The Old Lady just bought half a yard of cable and
there are plenty of bids for Bill and Ben."
To most foreign exchange traders in London's
"City" financial district that sentence would make perfect sense:
"The Bank of England just bought half a billion British pounds against the
US dollar and there's interest to buy the Japanese yen."
A mixture of Cockney rhyming slang, market banter and
expressions picked up from horse racing bookmakers makes up the basis for a
financial lingua franca that may sound like nonsense to most people, but has
dominated the $4 trillion a day foreign exchange (FX) market for decades up
Most often used for currencies, countries and numbers, this
financial market mumbo jumbo is starting to die out on the modern trading
floors of international banks.
The growth of electronic dealing over computer screens rather
than telephones or in person, a new generation of university-educated traders,
and the introduction of the single European currency are all seen as reasons
behind slang's demise.
"These terms get batted around a little bit but not as
much as they used to," said Graham Davidson, director of FX trading at
National Australia Bank in London, who said dealing rooms in general are much
quieter than they used to be.
"FX is much more electronic. Lots of the slang came
about through banter with the voice brokers, but that doesn't really work with
machines. A lot of day-to-day chit chat has faded away, it's quite sad."
Some market players say the shift in the language of the
dealing rooms also highlights a wider shift in the demographic of those doing
Many traders nowadays are recruited as university graduates
with top marks from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and M.I.T., whereas 30 years ago
aspiring youngsters with few, if any, academic qualifications often started as
back office clerks and worked their way up to the trading floor.
Young London lads blessed with quick wits, common sense and
ability to juggle numbers were often prized above those with academic laurels
and went on to make fortunes as City traders.
"They were the 'barrow boys' coming off the market
stalls. It was more working class and with that came the language of the
street," said one trader, who used to work alongside some dealers who also
owned fruit and vegetable and flower stalls.
"In the early days of dealing rooms it was the City
institutions and especially the British banks where you heard it. Now dealing
rooms might be a bit more international and slang is dying off a bit."
Some expressions have endured despite the changed dealing
room environment. "Yard," meaning billion comes from shortening the
French word for billion, which is "milliard."
"Cable" - one of the most-used slang terms - means
the British pound/US dollar currency pair and refers to the transatlantic
telegraph cable that allowed prices to be transmitted between the London and
New York Exchanges.
The Bank of England gained its title from its address,
making it the "Old Lady" of Threadneedle Street, while the yen is
nicknamed the Bill and Ben - after a pair of puppets from a 1950s British
children's TV show - simply because it rhymes.
Country nicknames tend to conform to stereotypes, some less
politically correct than others, while currencies were given nicknames to help
distinguish them easily.
Some traders said if countries did give up the single
European currency (euro) as a result of an on-going debt crisis in Europe, some
slang might re-emerge.
"We have talked about this a lot recently given the
euro zone situation, and thought about what it would be like to go back to
mark/Paris (deutschmark/French franc)," a London-based trader said.
"These days there are far fewer names to worry about -
the euro is the euro. Whereas in years gone by you would have had to worry
about what the Estonian currency was even called."
Want to learn City slang? See the next page for a short selection
A Spaniard: 1
From the Spanish name Juan
A prickly: 2
A prickly pear
A carpet: 3
UK prisoners used to be allowed carpet in their cells after
Lady Godiva: 5
Rhymes with fiver
Tenner rhymes with Ayrton Senna, the late racing car driver
A bully: 50
From the 50-point bullseye on a dartboard
A monkey: 500
The 500-Indian rupee note used to have a picture of a monkey
The loonie Canadian dollar
A waterfowl named the loon is depicted on Canada's
The Kiwi nz dollar
National bird of New Zealand
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