Some stock market terms

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Oct 14 21:58:01 UTC 2008

Among its other activities, the New York City Grand Jury used to study city activities or situations and make recommendations, if they found a problem.  Here is a passage from their report on the Stock Market:

[The Grand Jury, reporting on the activities of the Board of Brokers] explain the mysteries of "hammering" and "cornering," tells what are bulls and bears, and recommends that the Board discourage the sale of stocks on time. . . .
New-York Tribune, March 4, 1842, p. 3, col. 1

OED has "corner" in the stock-market sense sense from 1836 (4a) and "hammer" only from 1865 (I, 2d).  "Bull" and "bear" in this sense were already old by 1842.
My impression of the sense of selling stock on time in this story was that it referred to "short selling", but perhaps I'm being unduly influenced by reading the papers of our century, and it really only means that the Jury is deploring "buy now, pay later" stock trading.  The OED has to "buy on time" in this common sense from 1840, but the 1840 quotation isn't particularly clear.
1840 Spirit of Times 15 Aug. 277/1 On time, the prices would at once be enhanced. 1873 W. MATHEWS Getting on in World xix. 316 We need not expect that the practice of selling goods on time will ever be abandoned. 1925 Sat. Even. Post 10 Oct. 133/1 It's like peddling lots on time, instead of selling and developing acreage. 1972 J. M. MINIFIE Homesteader vi. 44 Everything was bought ‘on time’, hardly any transactions involved cash. 1979 R. L. SIMON Peking Duck xx. 144 On the table with Harvey's Sony tape recorder was a Nikon FT... I wondered if he had bought it all on time.
On the other hand, under "sell short" ("short", C 11) it has the following:
1861 in Rebellion Rec. (1862) I. III. 27 When one of the members of the Board offered to sell Government Stock ‘short’ on time, he was instantly hissed down.
So perhaps my impression is correct.  I will reread the story tomorrow if I can.

By the way -- the OED doesn't seem to have an entry for the expression "to buy time", in the sense on "to delay a crisis with some temporary strategem", although it has several quotations under unrelated headings containing it.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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