The Strange English Language and its Use in Business Reporting and Politics

Posted On Sunday, Jan 01, 1950


Many years ago, a cousin asked me: "How do you spell fish?"

I was probably 18 years of age then (that was 31 years ago for those who wish to calculate my age).
My cousin was 24 years old.

"F-i-s-h" I responded, thinking that this was the first level in a long chain that would lead to the final trick question.

"Not correct", said my cousin, "the correct spelling is:
'gh' (as in the sound 'f' from the word 'enough');
'o' (as in the sound 'i' from the word 'women'); and
'ti' (as in the sound 'sh' from the word 'position'). And that', he finished with a flourish, "is what George Bernard Shaw declared.
The correct spelling of 'fish' is 'gh-o-ti'"

So, yes, English is a strange language.

And those of us who write articles or report events in English need to be careful how we use our words.

Of course, there is an Indian-ness to English from a grammatical perspective.
And we also sprinkle it with enough local words to make it 'Hinglish'.

Business reporting gets swanky

The most colourful use of English, though, is in the reporting of how stocks moved or how the economy is behaving.

Take, for example, the coverage of the stock markets.

On November 16th a well-known financial newspaper had a news item on how the Japanese stock market had "soared" 21 points to 9,791 (see Table 1).
Hmm, the use of the word 'soared' conjures up images of a bird heading directly to the sun. Not at an angle, but vertically.
And, yet, on closer examination one finds that the Japanese stock markets had gained +0.21%. Hardly a 'soar' of any sort.
The same news item described the rise in the Hong Kong stock market as 'advanced' - the impression of a forward movement. Yet, on close examination of the numbers, it turns out that the Hong Kong stock market had gained +1.73%. This was over 8x the gain of the stock market in Japan. Yet 'advanced' was used to describe Hong Kong and 'soared' to describe Japan.

Another article on the increase in subsidies for rice and wheat gave the impression that the increase in subsidy for rice ('surged') was more than the increase in subsidy for wheat ('rose').
Actually, the numbers suggest the opposite: the procurement price of wheat had surged by 8.02% and that of rice rose by 5.81%.

Table 1: A rose by any other name…

 PreviousClosingGain% changedescribed as
Procurement price of wheat (Rs)1,392.681,504.39111.718.02%rose
Procurement price of rice (Rs)1,789.781,893.71103.935.81%surged
Hong Kong stock market22,55322,9443911.73%advanced
Japan stock market9,7709,791210.21%soared
China stock market3,1883,275872.73%zoomed
Source: articles in a well-respected business daily newspaper

Placing stories out of proportion to their true worth - or not fully in context - is also part of the problem with the media.

So when Goldman, Sachs announced a USD 500 million grant to help small businesses in USA in a trust that will comprise of a committee that includes Warren Buffet, the headline read like a "wow" news story.

The real story was that Goldman was willing to give USD 17 billion in bonuses to employees, and this 3% to help small businesses was a ploy to buy some goodwill.

And the words distorted in politics

Politicians and political journalists also use the English language and incorrect headlines to tone down the 'real' story.

Not that the Dalai Lama is a politician - far from it - but when asked in a recent NDTV interview whether President Obama was 'soft' on China, the spiritual leader said that maybe President Obama has a 'different strategy'.

Well, we hope he does.

The President was elected on a platform of 'change'.
And what we have seen so far from him is actually 'notes'.
Paper notes and hand-outs, that is.
The rescue of Wall Street, tax breaks to real estate developers, muddling on
Afghanistan, confusion on Pakistan and Iran, and the continued hip-bending bows to China.

So, we watch and read the wonderful mastery of the English language and the way we spin our stories to suit our needs.

But one of my favourites is the well-publicised fact that the price of gold has surged to new highs.
It has.
But equity stocks have been a far better place to put your money this year!
I am not saying that gold is a bad long term investment - far from it - but showing you the other part of the headline that the pres forgot to write.

Or the other factoid that, adjusted for inflation, the price of gold is still 50% lower than what it was 20 years ago.
It is true.

But, does that mean, it will rise by 100% from here to equal that peak of 20 years ago?

Hmm, no answer about that anywhere in the articles.

And one quick test: How do you spell gold?

Answer: On the NSE it is QGOLDHALF - the ticker symbol for the Quantum Gold ETF.



Suggested allocation in Quantum Mutual Funds

Quantum Long Term Equity FundQuantum Gold Fund 
Quantum Liquid Fund
Why you should own it:An investment for the future and an opportunity to profit from the long term economic growth in IndiaA hedge against a global financial crisis and an "insurance" for your portfolioA hedge against a global financial crisis and an "insurance" for your portfolioCash in hand for any emergency uses but should get better returns than a savings account in a bank
Suggested allocation80 %20%Keep aside money to meet your expenses for 6 months to 2 years

Disclaimer : Past performance may or may not be sustained in the future. Mutual Fund investments are subject to market risks, fluctuation in NAV's and uncertainty of dividend distributions. Please read offer documents of the relevant schemes carefully before making any investments. Click here for the detailed risk factors and statutory information"

Ajit Dayal, the author is a Director in Quantum Information Services Private Limited and Quantum Asset Management Company Private Limited. Views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and may not be regarded as views of the Quantum Mutual Fund or Quantum Asset Management Company Private Limited or Quantum Information Services Private Limited.

Mutual Fund Investments are subject to market risks. Please read the offer documents of the respective schemes before making any investments

Note: This article was first carried on

Above article is authored by Quantum.

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