Sunday, 22 July 2012

Plain Vanilla

I’m not hugely against legalese or industry jargon. Lawyers have words and phrases that we use because they are handy, descriptive shorthand. Lawyers say rights in rem rather than rights in a thing, because we use the Latin to get round our English ambiguities. It’s also shorter. We say judges’ comments were made obiter because the Latin means we can avoid saying ‘the judges were just giving their opinion on something they didn’t really have to deal with’, which would sound a bit rude, and a bit long. In competition law, we say ‘hard core’ when talking about a certain set of actions that are particularly bad. It’s just a useful handle (if a bit vulgar sounding).

But I am against jargon that is contrary to good sense or cookery. ‘Plain vanilla’ is one such term. It’s used in finance to mean ‘straightforward’, ‘simple’ or ‘without finials’, as in a ‘plain vanilla bond issue’. Now, I know bankers are not renowned for their soft, homely skills. But surely we all now know that vanilla is an interesting, complex flavour and so should never be described as plain? And certainly should not be tarnished by its association with bond issues. I don’t want to be thinking of the Eurobond market when I’m having my crème brulee. Hence forth, I’m replacing plain vanilla with John Smith

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