Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lendors vs. borrowers — to the death!

Polonius was right: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend, / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” And that goes double for subprime lending! ;)

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the crunch hitting the Housing Sector, mainly driven by the spectacular implosion of subprime lending. I won’t rehearse all the details here in this post; you can read a little about it here, or just peruse some of the results from Google News. This is a subject I’ve been following closely ever since I left my last employer for the present one. I used to work for a mortgage company that specializes in subprime loans. In fact, the looming crisis is one reason I left. And I still know people over there. I keep expecting to hear about layoffs any day now (Countrywide, my previous employer’s chief competitor in the area, considered by many to be an industry bellweather, just announced layoffs, and their stock was just downgraded to “underperform”). Anyway, what does all this uncharacteristic financial mumbo-jumbo have to do with the usual concerns of my blog?

Well, I just had to share this with my fellow logophiles. Ever consider the meaning of mortgage? The word first appeared in English in the wake of the Norman conquest of England — along with a depressing assortment of other new Anglo-Norman arrivals: peasant, oppression, tax, penalty, punishment, treason, judge, jury, prison, and exile, just to name a few. No wonder the Domesday Book was a national bestseller! ;) It appears in 14th Century Middle English as morgage ( < French mort + gage) and literally means “death-pledge”.

So, a mortgage is a pledge (or perhaps a struggle) to the death. A long, slow, painful struggle at 8 per cent. If you’re lucky. And if you’re not — well, let’s just say you’ll have plenty of free time to ponder the etymology of foreclosure.

Isn’t that comforting? :)

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