Septaper Surprise!: 20 Wonky Financial Slang Terms You Probably Didn’t Know

Buzzwords like "Septaper" are in rich company when it comes to weird Wall Street lingo

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Vito Palmisano

Slang, linguist Jonathan Lighter once wrote, is a way to convey an insider’s wry appraisal, something to boost a slangster’s ego by showing familiarity with concepts that bemuse others. That description may help explain why slang is so prevalent in the financial world, a generally bemusing place where insider knowledge reigns supreme.

Right now, the wonky buzzwords making the rounds are Septaper and Octaper. Financial analysts had predicted that September would be a time for tapering, a drop-off in bond-buying that the Fed has been doing to keep interest rates in check. That hasn’t happened yet—which was a “Septaper surprise” to analysts—but the annals of wonky Wall Street buzzwords do, at least, have another entry.

Here are some other weird and wacky financial slang terms, with definitions derived from Oxford University Press’s specialized dictionaries:

alligator spread (n.): any spread (the difference between the buying and selling price) in which any potential gain is annulled by the high cost of commissions; the alligator suggests commissions “eating up” profits.

baby bonds (n.): in the U.S., bonds having a denomination lower than $1000; also a nickname for children’s trust funds.

barbell (n.): a portfolio made up predominantly of short- and long-term obligations, the idea being that it is “weighted” at both ends like a barbell or dumb-bell.

bear hug (n.): an approach a company makes to the board of another company, indicating that an offer is about to be made for their shares.

bed and breakfast (n): an operation on the London Stock Exchange in which a shareholder sold a holding one evening and made an agreement with the broker to buy the same holding back again when the market opened the next morning.

cafeteria plan (n.): an agreement that permits employees to choose from a range of benefits in kind, such as retirement plan assets and health insurance.

corset (n.): a government restriction on the growth of bank deposits and thus indirectly on bank lending and the money supply.

dawn raid (n): an attempt to acquire a significant holding in the equity of another company by instructing brokers to buy all the shares available in that company as soon as the stock exchange opens.

dead cat bounce (n.): a temporary recovery on a stock exchange, after a substantial fall. It does not imply a reversal of the downward trend, much like a dead cat bouncing off the ground would not come back to life.

fill and kill (n.): a situation in which a client’s order to a broker is either executed (“filled”) immediately or not at all.

gnomes of Zurich (n.): an unflattering term applied to Swiss bankers and financiers, alluding to their secrecy and speculative activity.

godfather offer (n): a tender offer pitched so high that the management of the target company is unable to discourage shareholders from accepting it—in other words, an offer that cannot be refused.

killer bee (n.): An investment banker who helps a business to resist a predatory takeover bid. Killer bees are named for the insect that may be small but can aggressively swarm and take down something much bigger.

lifeboat (n.): the rescue of a company that is in financial difficulty by new or restructured loans from its group of bankers.

living dead (n.): a company that has received venture capital funding but is unlikely to meet its growth targets or provide the required rate of return on the investment.

pass the book (v.): to transfer the management of a financial position from one office of a business to another in a different time zone to take advantage of 24-hour trading.

Samurai bond (n.): a bond issued in Japan by a foreign institution. (A “sushi bond” is one issued by a Japanese-registered company in a currency other than yen but targeted at the Japanese market.)

scalpers (n.): traders who deal very frequently for small gains and may only hold a position for a few minutes, like ticket scalpers who briefly hold passes for concerts or other events.

valium picnic (n.): a colloquial name for a non-trading day on a stock exchange or other commercial market, a market holiday.

window dressing (n.): any accounting practice that attempts to make a balance sheet look better than it really is.