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The Origins of Wall Street Market Terms

Wall Street stockbrokers have unique slang words which can make it sound like they're practically speaking a different language. In lieu of hiring a translator, familiarize yourself with some of the more common Wall Street market terms and their meanings.

By Joseph D. N. KendrickPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
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Like members of any relatively exclusive profession or organization, the stockbrokers on Wall Street have, over time, developed a proprietary lexicon of inside jokes and trade-specific terms. Generally, these terms are of little to no use to laypeople, but they come in handy in a few specific scenarios. Understanding some of the more cryptic Wall Street market terms can enrich the experience of watching a movie like The Wolf of Wall Street, or seemingly any movie that takes place in the 1980s, while understanding common stock market terms and their definitions is just good general knowledge.

Put it on the tape.

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In the "golden age" of Wall Street in the 1980s, trade orders were recorded on long strips of ticker tape. This tape was pretty much constantly running, dispensing orders out onto the trading floor. In the 21st century, this practice has been replaced with computers, but the lingo remains. Today, "put it on the tape" has expanded to refer to the act of ordering pretty much anything. Although still used for stock quotes, it's a popular term when taking food orders.

Fat Finger

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Having a "fat finger" or performing a "fat finger error" is one of a few Wall Street market terms that has become applicable in many other lines of work and even everyday life, thanks to the worldwide proliferation of computers and smart phones. Simply put, a "fat finger error" refers to a mistake inputting numbers or other data due to imprecise typing. In other lines of work, such errors maybe lead to typos and misspellings. On Wall Street, however, these errors can lead to plummeting stock prices, stock market crashes, and other forms of financial crisis if they aren't caught in time.

Long and Short

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I know what you're thinking: "I already know what those words mean!" But I'm here to tell you that you couldn't be more wrong. At many financial institutions, "long" and "short" refer, respectively, to investments that are expected to increase or decrease in value over the long term so that brokers can make a decision on what investment is best for them. In the world of Wall Street stockbrokers, these words have become slang for positive or negative opinions on just about anything. For example, someone could say their "long coffee, short tea," meaning they prefer roasted beans to dried leaves.


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It shouldn't come as any surprise that the cliquey boys' club of Wall Street has produced some less-than-couth terminology. One of the most vulgar, yet most widely used Wall Street market terms is BSD, or "Big Swinging Dick." This refers to a broker known for making high profile, valuable deals, and is generally meant as a compliment; something along the lines of "badass." The term BSD was widely introduced to the public in Michael Lewis's semi-autobiographical work Liar's Poker in 1989.

Treat Me Subject

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"Treat me subject" is a phrase often used to refer to a conditional offer. In other words, if you supply a bid to a client and say "treat me subject," it means that the bid is subject to the approval of other parties to agree to the terms, as well as changes in the market. Today, the term has also stretched beyond its strict meaning to serve simply as a substitute for "maybe."


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In a profession defined by the buying and selling of things (namely stocks), it's no surprise that transactional terms made their way into other realms of conversation. The origins of "sold!" are pretty obvious, but the term has now become distinct from its original, straightforward definition. Today, "sold!" is more often used as a heavily sarcastic response to a bad idea. For example, if someone makes a terrible lunch suggestion like "let's go to Applebees," you can shush them with an overly enthusiastic "sold!"


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"Piker" is a generally pejorative term used by people who work in prestigious institutions like the New York Stock Exchange to refer to people who deal in low end capital markets. More specifically, it refers to those who claim to more experienced and knowledgeable than they really are. The term comes from the 19th century slang word "pike," which referred to the act of withdrawing from an agreement.

Elephant Hunting

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A particularly tasteless term in the wake of the recent poaching that's been plaguing Africa, "hunting elephants" is a term used by even the highest ranking stock brokers of all time such as Robert Shiller and Warren Buffett. The term refers to the hunt for massive deals and mergers and buyouts, aka "elephants." Buffett was famously quoted as using the term in the wake of his move to acquire Heinz through his private equity firm.


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"Clowngrading" is another pejorative term referring to when a sell-side analyst upgrades or downgrades a security or stock for reasons considered by his or her peers to be frivolous or ill-informed. Short selling and everything you need to know about it is already difficult enough, and this relatively recent term of "clowngrading" as a phenomenon has been exacerbated by the internet as the increased speed at which transactions occur in today's markets expound upon themselves. Many analysts are in a rush to be the first to announce an upgrade or downgrade in a stock's rating, which often means these decisions have to be made in just 10 or 15 minutes, if not less. This rapid decision making can lead to announcements that, in hindsight, appear to be ludicrously ill-advised, and are known as "clowngrades."

Traded Ahead

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"Traded ahead" is a pretty simple term that essentially refers to landing a client or making a deal before one of your colleagues or before another firm. If you landed the client first, you can say that you "traded ahead" of the opposition. Like many other Wall Street market terms, it has expanded beyond its strictly financial meaning to refer to everyday situations. For example, if you got the last donut in the break room, you can say you "traded ahead."


About the Creator

Joseph D. N. Kendrick

Writer of words. Haver of cats.

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