Funemployment: The Latest Recession Dictionary Entry

A whole new language has evolved to describe our new economic reality.

ByALICE GOMSTYN <br/> ABC NEWS Business Unit
March 06, 2009, 7:17 PM

June 5, 2009&#151; -- Questions persist about whether the recession is nearing an end, but there's at least one aspect of the economic slump that's charging full-steam ahead: recession-related slang.

New words and phrases, like "green shoots" and "deTARP" are entering the American vernacular while older ones, like "bailout," have re-asserted themselves in the public consciousness.

The latest phrase to hit our recession lexicon: "Funemployment." That's right. Forget unemployment, the young and jobless are actually -- for now -- putting a positive spin on being unemployed.

The blog Recessionwire defines funemployment as "a period of joblessness that you actually enjoy -- maybe you get to lay out, sleep in, work out, read up. It helps to have savings, severance, or an unemployment check to help pay the bills."

The basic idea: you might not be able to find a new job right away, so why not enjoy the time off?

Settling on catchwords, experts say, may prove comforting to people as they struggle to come to terms with today's economic straits.

"Maybe when you can wrap everything up into one catchword, you're controlling the situation for yourself," Nancy Friedman, the head of Wordworking, a California company that creates names and taglines for companies and products, recently told "That's what we do with language -- we attempt to define and control and make sense of the world."

But whether new recession buzzwords will endure remains to be seen. While Merriam-Webster's Dictionary added three recession-inspired words to its online dictionary recently, editors there and at rival American Heritage Dictionary agree that it will take years before such words make it into print dictionaries, if they ever do.

For now, has updated its online recession dictionary with five additional recession terms. Do you know of a word that you think should be added to our list? Let us know by clicking here. Your suggestion could be featured in a future story.

Below, a list of terms inspired by or given new life through this recession:

**ADDITION 201(k): noun A play on the term 401(k), in reference to retirement investment accounts that have seen their value nearly halved by the stock market's precipitous decline. Since it peaked above 14,000 in October 2007, the Dow Jones industrial average has fallen more than 40 percent. -- word suggested by reader Denis Regan of Princeton, N.J.

bailout: noun A rescue from financial distress. -- courtesy Merriam-Webster.

Merriam-Webster named "bailout" its "Word of the Year" last year after it was used to describe the multibillion dollar investments the government made in the nation's ailing banks and automakers. The word, which was also used to describe the government's aid to Chrysler in the late 1970s, received "the highest intensity of lookups on Merriam-Webster Online over the shortest period of time," the company said.

**ADDITION dead mall: noun A shopping mall "debilitated by anemic sales and high vacancy rates," according to the Wall Street Journal.

As the economic slump continues to batter retail sales, many mall stores are closing up shop, leaving shopping centers increasingly empty and in poor financial health. In April, General Growth Properties Inc., the nation's second-largest mall operator, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Diminishing or Shooting Up? Depends on the Word

decremental: adjective The act or process of decreasing or becoming gradually less; the amount lost by gradual diminution or waste. -- courtesy The American Heritage Dictionary.

The opposite of incremental, decremental has been appearing more frequently in reports by analysts reviewing the financial health of various companies, used in such phrases as "decremental margins" and "decremental sales."

It's "an ugly word," Deutsche Bank analyst Peter Reilly told The Wall Street Journal.

**ADDITION deTARP: verb To repay an investment by the government's Troubled Assets Relief Program. While TARP was widely viewed as a bailout for the country's struggling financial system, the public relations hit many institutions took for taking TARP funds and concerns about government restrictions on TARP-funded banks, has made many eager to "detarp" or return money.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, more than a dozen banks have returned about $1.3 billion in TARP funds, including TCF Financial, which gave back $361 million, and Sterling Bancshares, which paid back $125 million. Of the country's largest banks, at least three -- Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley -- have applied to the federal government to return the funds, Bloomberg News reported. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley each received $10 billion in TARP funds, while JPMorgan got $25 billion.

furlough: noun 1. A leave of absence granted to a governmental or institutional employee (as a soldier, civil servant or missionary); a document authorizing such a leave of absence.

2. A leave of absence granted by an employer to an employee; especially: a leave of absence granted at the employee's request; a temporary lack of employment due to economic conditions. -- courtesy Merriam-Webster

Furloughs have grown more common these days as some companies seek to cut costs by giving employees unpaid time off. In January, Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, announced it would furlough most of its 31,000 employees for one week.

Great Recession: noun The current recession, which began in December 2007.

The length and severity of the current recession has led some in the media to dub it the "Great Recession," a term that echoes the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"It won't produce as steep a fall in American output as the Depression did, but it may prove to be as prolonged," Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson wrote in an op-ed article last week in The New York Times.

**ADDITION green shoots: noun Initially a term typically applied to budding plants, now used to describe new indicators of economic recovery.

Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke referred to improvements in money market mutual funds and business lending as "green shoots" in a March interview with CBS's "60 Minutes."

Many Words for Job Cuts

layoff: noun 1. The act of suspending or dismissing an employee, as for lack of work or because of corporate reorganization. 2. A period of temporary inactivity or rest.

The word layoff once was used synonymously with the word furlough -- meaning a temporary dismissal for work -- but, unfortunately for many workers, layoffs announced during this recession tend to be of the permanent variety.

mini-Madoff: noun A scammer who perpetuates a pyramid scheme similar to but smaller than that allegedly run by Bernard L. Madoff, a once-respected Wall Street player who is accused of bilking investors out of tens of billions of dollars.

As the economy unravels, more and more alleged pyramid schemes -- through which scammers pay early investors with cash from new investors -- are coming to light. The alleged cases of Robert Allen Stanford in Texas and Arthur G. Nadel in Florida have, after Madoff, become among the most notable.

recessionista: noun One who remains stylish during times of economic hardship; a woman who updates her wardrobe in a frugal manner. -- courtesy Merriam-Webster

Recessionista is what linguists call a portmanteau -- a word formed from parts of two or more separate words. In this case, recessionista is a play on the words "fashionista" and, of course, recession.

The term has become ubiquitous in news media reports and blogs, particularly those focusing on fashion on a budget.

The recessionista "is at the mall finding designer threads ... at discount prices," wrote blogger Derek Blasberg. "That's because recessionistas aren't letting a little thing like falling stock prices and rising gas bills get in the way of their wardrobe."

**ADDITION rif Abbreviation for reduction in force. Often used in reference to government jobs and, specifically, public school teacher positions. -- word suggested by reader Gayle Howell, Covington, Ga.

A slang, verb form of RIF include "riffed" and "riffing," according to Webster's New World College Dictionary. While these are not new terms, they've been used with increasing frequency during the recession as public school districts and other government bodies join cash-strapped corporation in announcing layoffs.

shovel ready: noun A construction project that can begin immediately after it receives funding.

The term "shovel ready" blasted into the public vernacular as proponents of the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan touted the public works projects that could begin -- and create jobs -- immediately if they received funding through the package. Obama called the plan, which received Congressional approval in February, "the largest new investment in national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."

The term now is also being used colloquially by some to describe any project that is on the verge of beginning.

Staying Put Among Zombies

staycation: noun A holiday spent at home, especially due to straitened financial circumstances. -- courtesy Collins Dictionaries.

As more people are finding their finances strained by job losses, the sinking stock market and withering house prices, they're tightening their belts by skipping pricey vacations. Instead, they're staying at, or close to, home with trips to local attractions like amusement parks.

The trend has spread to college students, with some now contemplating taking "spring break staycations."

zombie bank: noun A bank that has a negative net worth but continues to operate because of depositor's insurance or other governmental intervention. -- courtesy Merriam-Webster.

The term may provoke images of horror movies and "the undead," but zombie bank refers not to monsters but financial institutions that cannot survive without aid from another party, often the government. Ressurected in recent months, "zombie bank" was also used to describe banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and during the Japanese financial crisis of the 1990s.

Do you know of a word that you think should be added to our list? Let us know by clicking here. Your suggestion could be featured in a future story.

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