A Handbook of Economic Neologisms

Article excerpt

The time required for the adoption of innovations in the organization of economics is directly proportional to their simplicity and utility. This is so trivial a statement as to be easily converted into a folk theorem (unlike the real folk theorem, which is far from trivial). For instance, the simple, robust, nonstandard-analytic, masterstroke innovation in the J. Econ. Lit. where the selected abstracts appear encapsulated together with the non-selected plebeian. The journal had 30 years of tatonnement for this traverse, an infinite life for some finite lived agents. It could hardly be claimed that nontrivial iteration between the general and the selected abstracts via the name index was an efficient process, although some biconditional orthogonality was apparent. Perhaps, initially, the journal took a calculated temporal risk, which did not lead to impatience of its overlapping generations readership and then took a further risk of disturbing the adjacent complementarity in perusing, known as habit forming and habit persistent. Still there is valid optimism that this nonneglected heterogeneity will persist without regrets.

In the passage above, some 20 economic neologisms have been awkwardly crammed at the expense of clarity in order to make a point about their undue proliferation and as introduction to another, far more important and equally belated innovation, an efficient guidebook for recent jargon. It is communicated in a rush to the Journal of Economic Issues with the same sense of urgency that a scientific discovery is relayed to Nature, Science, or Physical Review Letters:

A group of economic lexicographers, appropriately called The Soloikos Group of Athens, have launched a fabulous lexicon, modestly titled A Catalogue of Late Economic Idiom. It is yet another simple and robust innovation, long overdue, although some of the time elapsed should be counted as the inevitable production period.

Very briefly, the document contains innumerable entries estimated by an inexact sampling process at 2,000 idioms, including variations, and encompassing economic and econometric initials. All items are listed alphabetically in English and are also separately reclassified at the back in six generic categories: Scientistic Terms, Initials, Name-Attributes, Colloquialisms, Metaphors, and Economic Stories. These generic categories are as arbitrary as the famous taxonomy in the old Chinese encyclopaedia (flat animals, embalmed, animals belonging to the emperor, etc.). While this reshuffling is not operationally important, the indices acquire a momentum of their own as a tacit but powerful critique on the course of economics in the deconstructionist mode; they will be dealt with in extenso later.

The entries include, when applicable, a brief definition, the originating reference, the adopting reference, and, occasionally, further references indicating the period when there was heavy use of the term. Sources are summarily dealt with in every entry (in the manner of the J. Econ. Lit.), and they are appended alphabetically in full at the end of the work. Some of the originating references are dated, but the mode of adopted neologisms falls within the normal neologistic time-span, estimated at about 40 years. As it so happens with economic research and publication processes, the form is exponential over time, and the incidence of the majority of neologisms is post-1978.

The criterion for the acceptance of an entry as a bona fide neologism is its adoption verbatim by a number of early zealots. There are no strict criteria on the frequency of citation, and much is left to the subjective views of the collectors. It is obvious that they relied heavily on the latest On Disk EconLit CD-ROM, but their task was formidable as cross-referencing and verification required further extensive bibliographic research.

The core clientele addressed by the handbook appears to be the non-specialist but inquisitive economist who might just want to look up an unexplained neologism. …