Rebranding Recession Lingo

As the financial crisis evolves, so does the vocabulary being used to describe—or obscure—it. Looking to neuter some of the most loaded terms, policy wonks and businessmen are feeling the urge to rebrand. Last week NEWSWEEK's Dan Gross noted Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's transformation of toxic assets into "legacy assets"—and that's just the most salient tweak. A bailout, for instance, sounds much friendlier when it's deemed "exceptional assistance," as Geithner recently phrased it. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have backed international financial regulation, though they prefer to call it "macroprudential oversight."

The private sector is also getting in on the word games. Goldman Sachs's head of mergers and acquisitions, Tim Ingrassia, recently announced that the title "M&A banker" carries too much baggage, so now his cards read "adviser to the free flow of capital." And those layoffs at Nokia last fall? Those were actually "synergy-related head-count adjustments." Feel better now? Even that troubling phrase "global financial crisis" is getting a face-lift, courtesy of Paul Payack, editor of the Global Language Monitor. He recommends calling it a "global economic restructuring," to offset some of the issue's "emotional freight." The Dow may have tanked—"inverted its buoyancy"?—but at least linguistic contortions are booming.