WHERE A BAG OF SAND EQUALS A GRAND
London Traders Use Slang For Accuracy and Laughs;
A Carpet for Ayrton Senna?
By NEIL KEANE
What do Luciano Pavarotti, a sandbag and a pony have in common? They are all part of the slang flying around London dealing rooms.
Traders the world over have long substituted slang for numbers to avoid misunderstandings or, in most cases, simply to lighten up what could be a stressful job in a raucous trading pit.
Nowhere has the slang been thicker than in London, home to some of the world\'s oldest and biggest markets.
During the past decade or so, computer trading has killed off many an exchange\'s open outcry system and taken the colorful patter with it.
Not in London, though, where traders still deal in Pavarottis, bags of sand and ponies.
\"Pavarotti\" is shorthand for \"10,\" because the Italian opera singer is, of course, a tenor. And a tenor is a homonym for \"tenner,\" yet another British slang word for 10. A \"bag of sand\" denotes 1,000, because sand rhymes with \"grand,\" a pretty well-known expression for 1,000. \"Pony\" means 25, though its origins are murky. Some say the term comes from India, once a British colony, where the 25-rupee note had a picture of a horse on it.
So, if London traders no longer cling to their dealing-room slang out of necessity, why do they still speak in tongues? Slang experts say they do it to alleviate boredom on quiet days or to make otherwise repetitive data entry a bit more interesting.
Social anthropologists would probably also suggest the banter helps define them as a group. Man isn\'t a solitary animal. We want to belong. And slang helps determine where you belong.
Jonathon Green, author of the definitive \"Cassell\'s Dictionary of Slang,\" says slang defines what living and working in an urban setting is all about.
“Above all, it is the language of the city – urgent, pointed, witty, cruel, capable both of excluding and including, of mocking and confirming,\" he says.
London dealers acknowledge the push to go electronic has gradually eroded their use of trading slang. These days, customers find trading slang pretty obscure.
But traders say slang is far too embedded into their culture and profession to abandon it.
\"We still use slang – most people will know what ‘a carpet for an Ayrton Senna’ means,\" says one London futures broker with a French bank. \"But we now tend to use it more between ourselves than when dealing with outside clients, just because of the risk of errors.\" A \"carpet for Ayrton Senna,\" by the way, has nothing to do with what is on the floor of the late Brazilian race-car driver\'s house. It means someone is willing to pay 0.03 percentage point above a certain rate for 10 contracts of something.
PONY UP THE MONKEY
London dealing room slang expressions
* Spaniard = One, from common Spanish name “Juan.”
* Pavarotti = 10, for the famous tenor (“tenner”) Luciano.
* Prince Charles = 12, or “one dozen,” from the royal heir’s use of “one does” to start sentences.
* Pony = 25, from picture of a horse on 25-rupee note when India was British colony.
* Hawaiian or McGarrett = 50, from the 1970s TV show Hawaii Five-0.
* Bar = 1 million.
* Yard = 1 billion.
The Wall Street Journal Europe
Thursday, February 13, 2003
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