This week’s weird wikipedia search brings up a rare instance of a politician admitting that they are talking nonsense…

The term Fedspeak (also known as Greenspeak) is used to describe the American Federal Reserve Board’s intentionally wordy, vague, and ambiguous statements. The strategy, which was used most prominently by Alan Greenspan, was used to prevent financial markets from overreacting to the chairman’s remarks.

Although it was originally believed by some that Alan Greenspan, who is generally credited for popularizing fedspeak, may have used such language unintentionally, he revealed in his 2007 book The Age of Turbulence, that the method of avoiding the issues directly when a clear message was not desired was indeed intentional. Greenspan states that the confusion, which often resulted in conflicting interpretations, was used to prevent unintended jolts to the markets as confusing statements were typically ignored.

In an interview with BusinessWeek in August 2012, when asked “about practicing the art of constructive ambiguity”, Greenspan replied:

As Fed chairman, every time I expressed a view, I added or subtracted 10 basis points from the credit market. That was not helpful. But I nonetheless had to testify before Congress. And so you construct what we used to call Fed-speak. I would hypothetically think of a little plate in front of my eyes, which was the Washington Post, the following morning’s headline, and I would catch myself in the middle of a sentence. Then, instead of just stopping, I would continue on resolving the sentence in some obscure way which made it incomprehensible. But nobody was quite sure I wasn’t saying something profound when I wasn’t. And that became the so-called Fed-speak which I became an expert on over the years. It’s a self-protection mechanism … when you’re in an environment where people are shooting questions at you, and you’ve got to be very careful about the nuances of what you’re going to say and what you don’t say.

Here’s an example of Fedspeak in action:

I would generally expect that today in Washington DC. the probability of changes in the weather is highly uncertain, but we are monitoring the data in such a way that we will be able to update people on changes that are important.

—Alan Greenspan, describing the weather in response to a question by Owen Bennett-Jones on BBC’s The Interview (October 2007)



Share This Post

About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

6 thoughts on “Fedspeak

  1. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    March 8, 2014 at 14:05

    Greenspan first made the front pages as an adviser to the Nixon administration, when he said that those suffering most in the recession of that time were stockbrokers. His memory of the derision the statement provoked might have led him to be more careful later on.

  2. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    March 8, 2014 at 18:10

    I enjoyed reading out loud the examples on the wiki page. It’s quite soothing and almost has a poetic rhythm to it. One could think of it as an American version of our Shipping Forecast, but I think it goes further. One of the examples you can just about split into lines of iambic pentameter. You have the odd internal rhyme scattered throughout (“financial excess” and “economic stress”), and quite mystic turns of phrase (“more distant time horizon”). There’s real wisdom to be found too: “long periods of relative stability often engender unrealistic expectations of its permanence”. Quite.

  3. wormstir@gmail.com'
    March 8, 2014 at 18:42

    Thanks both for your comments – was it Brit who once posted some other good examples of ‘accidental poetry’ on here?

  4. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    March 8, 2014 at 21:55

    Brit is definitely the master of accidental poetry dissection. The ‘bees pepper the bare earth’ post comes to mind.

    I’m loving The Wikiworm posts Worm, but don’t usually get to say so in comment form, Saturday being a computer free zone normally.

    • wormstir@gmail.com'
      March 9, 2014 at 15:46

      many thanks JJJJ- makes it all worthwhile!

Comments are closed.