Tuesday 2 April 2024

What's in a word... or two? By Steve Way


After my blog last month musing about obscure uses of language, (including their possible use in literature) further thoughts have occurred to me. I hope you find them interesting.

For reasons I won’t go into, I’ve recently viewed a little more of daytime TV than I would like, or is good for me, the programmes interspersed with bland advertisements that seem to be the same for every single commercial break. This slightly enforced repetition has resulted in me noticing a few key points. A loan company or two seem to note the fact that they charge 99.9% APR as some kind of a positive endorsement, rather than the fact that it’s reprehensible.* I couldn’t help wondering whether they think much of their audience will see 99.9% as representing nearly a 100% in a positive light.

The same seems to go for – in my opinion – the even more reprehensible advertisers of equity release schemes. In their case they all mention that the money released is subject to compound interest. Again, I’ve wondered if they see this as an attractive term, when in fact the charging of such interest should be criminalised. Do they think their potential clientele will associate the term ‘compound’ with The Kinks all-healing curative ‘Medicinal Compound’ and its philanthropic creator Lilly the Pink? Is it a word they associate with science and the formation of beneficial mixtures?

I find it interesting that compound interest seems largely only peddled to those who won’t experience its impact, rather leaving it to their grieving descendants. Maybe these savvy companies realise they couldn’t get away with charging it for other financial products the uproar would be deafening. It’s awful to have to say so, but if our parents hadn’t sadly left us relatively soon after buying into an equity release scheme, my siblings and would have inherited a far more modest amount, or nothing. How long will it be before the implication of one of these schemes becomes the motivation for murder at least in a fictionally imaginary scenario, such as in the notoriously dangerous Midsommer region? Frankly some well-known mathematicians should know better about how this form of interest soon accelerates in cost exponentially.

At university I shared digs with a friend who owned a battered old Ford. This made him the relative equivalent to a millionaire compared to the rest of us. However, travelling with him was a hair-raising experience – arguably the cause for my deficit these days perhaps. A couple of expressions he used were equally attention grabbing. Aware that he drove somewhat recklessly he once declared, ‘I never take dangerous risks’. Not unnaturally, given his aggressive approach to driving, he often found the efforts of others exasperating. Several times he would bemoan someone’s attempts to carefully negotiate a narrow gap by yelling. ‘You could get a [expletive] tank through that!’. I often wondered whether I should suggest that if the driver in question was having a problem steering a mini though said obstacle that they might find doing so in a tank somewhat more problematic. I just clung on tightly to my chair.

As I was growing up, no doubt like all children, I compared my dad to others. My school friends’ dads all seemed to swear properly, using the well-established expletives we’re all familiar with. My father on the other hand, when dropping a hammer on his foot, or bumping his head on an unexpectedly low ceiling, would utter what seemed to me the hugely unimpressive curse, ‘spit’. For ages I saw this a negative mark against his relative distinction against the parents of others, until years later, I can’t remember why, he explained the reason for this embarrassingly prosaic habit. It turns out my dad originally swore as colourfully, if not more, than his peers but on doing so in my presence as a toddler, he and mum soon discovered that at least in one respect I was a fast learner. By the sound of it an expletive may not have been my first word, but several had rapidly been incorporated into my nascent lexicon. The fact that dad had mastered the self-control to just cry ‘spit’ instead of… well you can imagine… in times of extreme aggravation – and usually pain - on my behalf immediately raised him status compared to his contemporaries who I’d held in higher esteem for so long. I only wish I’d known about that sooner!


*I personally believe, partly through harsh experience, that loan companies, credit card lenders etc. should have the APR they can charge capped at 20%. There seemed to be some ineffectual mutterings about debating a cap of around 40% in parliament a while back I believe but such ideas seemed to soon get brushed under the carpet. Of course, far be it from me to suggest that such ideas horrified those with vested interests (!) in maintaining the status quo, such as CEOs of loan companies…


Paul May said...

Great post! I'm with you on the way finance is sold, and kids at school really should be taught just what APR and Compound Interest mean. Sadly, when people want something badly and they are told they can have it for so much a month, they pay no attention to the real cost, and as long as that's the case the finance industry will continue to rip everyone off.

Steve Way said...

Thank you so much Paul. I'm with you all the way. Having worked in schools I passionately believe that more focus should be placed on teaching children the basics about finance. Whilst I'm all for teaching children that pi times the radius squared equals the area of a circle, I'm aware that few of the children will need to work this out as adults. However every single child will have to deal with money one way or another - more likely in several ways - as an adult. We should surely provide them with the basic skills to do so.
My parents were from a generation who were uncomfortable about talking about money with their children, so when I left home to go to uni, I basically had no idea what I was doing. On the whole I didn't do too badly but made some mistakes that could have been avoided - or at least I could have made an informed choice about. (This was when I got my first credit card... 'Oh! Look how much money I've got! ... That soon became one of the first lessons...

Stroppy Author said...

Absolutely agree we should be teaching these skills. (I don't think the adverts are boasting about their APR and compound interest, they are just legally obliged to reveal it, by the way.) Steve - "Whilst I'm all for teaching children that pi times the radius squared equals the area of a circle, I'm aware that few of the children will need to work this out as adults." Knowing how to work out the area of a circle is what tells them that a 14-inch pizza is four times the size of a 7-inch pizza. It's a vital skill in the world of UberEats