Modern day investing and the 'Thieves Cant'

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Modern day investing and the ‘Thieves Cant’

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Oxford defines a “cant” as “language specific to a particular group or profession…”.

In the mid-1500’s in England there arose a language used exclusively by a small group of people, thieves. It was often composed of regular-sounding English words, but with different, hidden meanings.

The old English thieves used this language they’d invented as a means to communicate in public, within earshot of potential victims, without tipping them off. It was called “The Thieves’ Cant”.

Over the next 100 years, England went through many struggles — high unemployment, wars, and internal conflicts, but the language remained alive thanks to the thieves.

As the 1600s rolled around, the population of England grew as did its trade, and because humans are always humans, as trade and population grew, so did thievery.

This was especially true in cities like London, which doubled and tripled in size over the years, but England wasn’t the only country with a Thieves’ Cant. Evidence of Thieves’ Cants are found in many English-speaking countries, including America.

By the early 1900’s however, the Thieves’ Cant died out, even though stealing hadn’t (and still hasn’t). Why? Simple. It got too popular. Many a dictionary was published exposing the words and meanings in the Thieves’ Cants. As literacy grew, those dictionaries reached more and more people.

In 1859 for example, a New York Police chief published a book called The Rogues Lexicon, to help regular people understand the words used by criminals both in everyday life and also in court testimonies. Exposure helped kill the “secret” language and helped make regular people safer and better off.

Now, you might wonder what, if anything this has to do with modern-day investing. I’ll explain. Much like back then, there exists a language today used in a section of society, a section that affects the well-being of the entire population, even if they don’t know it. This section is the world of investing.

Modern-day investment language is filled with its own “weird” words, terms and phrases. It has become its own cant, an “Investor’s Cant”.

While modern-day investors are not at all thieves (though many regular people might disagree), this modern day Investors Cant serves the needs of its group’s members in a similar way. It communicates certain ideas easily within and amongst people in world of finance and investing. However, it also excludes regular people, creating a world in which they feel lost, out of depth, and dependent on “translators” and trust. With this column, I intend to expose this world, starting with the language but also covering the concepts and ideas found there. I believe that the more regular Jamaicans know and understand investing and money in general, the better off everyone will be. Come with me each week as I expose a little bit more of this world of investing; stocks, IPOs, bonds, equity and general money management — in regular, plain language.

It’s time we increased everyone’s financial literacy. We’re starting now. Death to the cant.

Randy is a modern-day investor with a keen ear for secret languages, a sharp mind for seeking profits, and a keen set of four eyes, to keep on watch for thieves. He spends his working time as a Strategy Consultant and his free time writing for his Finance blog He can be reached by email at & on Twitter at @RTRowe.