Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke foiled the predictions of many analysts that September would usher in tapering, or the gradual slowdown of the bond-buying policy that the Fed instituted to keep long-term interest rates low. Those analysts even had renamed the month Septaper, but now they're looking ahead to a possible Octaper. After that, it gets a bit harder to come up with clever month-blends.
In my latest Wall Street Journal column (paywalled, but free via Google+), I look at how taper has become the financial buzzword of the moment. Taper originally referred to wax candles before becoming a verb for different kinds of gradual decrease, and lately it has become the favored term for how the Fed will eventually dial down the latest round of "quantitative easing," in which billions of dollars of bonds are bought up each month to help bolster the economy. (We're currently in the third round since 2008, or QE3.)
Back in February 2011 (when we were still in QE2), St. Louis Fed President James Bullard spoke of "a tapering program" to keep the markets from becoming adversely affected by a too-abrupt end of the Fed's bond-buying. But since then, Bernanke and other Fed officials have shied away from using the term tapering. As Neil Henderson of the WSJ's Real Time Economics blog recently explained, "they don’t want to imply that reductions in their $85-billion-per-month bond purchases will come in a steady, predictable progression." Instead, it could be "more like a terraced series of cuts."
But that hasn't stopped everyone in the financial sector from talking about "tapering," or "the taper" for short. (As I note in the WSJ column, "the taper" resembles "the sequester," the shorthand for "sequestration" that we heard so often from Capitol Hill earlier this year.) So when Bernanke first gave signs that the Fed was looking to taper back in June, the prognosticators began looking at the September announcement as a possible time when "the taper" would begin. Hence Septaper. As word watcher Barry Popik points out, Michael Gapen, an analyst at Barclays, gets the credit on Twitter for coining Septaper on June 19. As it happens, though, it was coined independently by "Dutch Book," a blogger for Stone Street Advisors, in a tweet on June 13.
Regardless of who coined it first, Septaper never happened, so now we're looking at Octaper, if Bernanke announces the long-awaited tapering at the Fed's Oct. 30 meeting. But don't expect Octaper to happen either if there's a government shutdown. Unfortunately, after that, the possibilities of blending taper with a month name are less than ideal: Novaper/Novtaper and Decaper/Dectaper just don't work as well, since November and December lack the t that helps make Septaper and Octaper succeed as portmanteau words. And once we get out of the -er months, forget it. Jantapery? Febtapery?
September through December seem to lend themselves to creative blending, perhaps because the names form a prosodic pattern: each is a three-syllable sequence with a stressed middle syllable (i.e., an amphibrach) and ends in -er. So we get Ocsober (sober + October), an initiative encouraging alcoholics to stay sober for a month, and Movember (moustache + November), a month-long charity event in which men grow moustaches to raise awareness for prostate cancer. (Both Ocsober and Movember were coined in Australia, as it turns out.) If you can think of any more portmanteau words involving the last four months on the calendar, let us know in the comments below!
Ben Zimmer is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society.Click here to read other articles by Ben Zimmer