“Loan Shark”: a borrowed name to offer a financial mouthful

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Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were draw attention for a new proposal that would cap credit card interest rates at 15% per year. They call it the Loan Shark Prevention Act, a provocative name that has nothing to do with limiting the practices of “loan sharks” as they are traditionally defined.

A “loan shark”, as the American Heritage Dictionary puts it, is “one who lends money at exorbitant interest rates, especially one who is funded and supported by an organized crime ring.” Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortezwrite that “the usurers of modern times no longer hide at street corners, threatening violence to collect their payments”. Now, they argue, the “credit sharks” are the big banks that charge “exorbitant fees and usurious interest rates”.

Transferring the label of “loan shark” from the criminal underworld to financial corporations is wise political marketing, as it draws on the ominous connotations that have long surrounded the word “shark”, both to predatory fish and to fish. their human counterparts.

The various species that we now call “sharks” were once known as “dogs of the sea”, based on Latin. canis sailor. Europeans did not encounter the largest and most dangerous type of shark until explorers began to navigate the waters of the New World. Some etymologists have speculated this “shark” is derived from the Yucatec word xoc, based on contact with Mayan merchants off the Mexican coast starting with the expeditions of Christopher Columbus. But this theory was scuttled by the proof of the word “shark” in a letter written by King Henry VI’s secretary Thomas Beckington in 1442, before Columbus was born.

It is more likely that the English word “shark” originally referred to our own species. It may be related to Schurke in German (and schurk in Dutch), referring to a scoundrel or a mean person. If so, the dangerous fish first derives its name by analogy from predatory humans, rather than the other way around.


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