Leo Haviland’s Book: Words on the Street

Words on the Street is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook format.


Also available at fine bookstores everywhere

“Words on the Street” is an experienced insider’s analysis of Wall Street language. This informative and entertaining exploration of marketplace rhetoric focuses on metaphors derived from the fascinating arenas of games, love, war, politics, religion, the fine arts, and natural physical science. This expose reviews that wordplay in the context of the American Dream.

Armies of books describe marketplace structure and instruments, recount economic history, or unveil personalities and strategies of heroic (or scandalous) individuals and institutions.

“Words on the Street” is different. It enlightens Wall Street professionals, Main Street audiences, policy makers, and academics regarding Wall Street talk and its implications.

Wall Street and American Dream rhetoric reflect and shape marketplace perspectives and thereby influence quests to make, keep, and manage money. Therefore Wall Street propaganda has major financial consequences for both Wall Street insiders and Main Street. “Words” may change marketplace viewpoints, including dogmas related to investment.

This cultural investigation shows how investors and other players are persuaded to venture into and stay within stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity arenas. The opportunity to make money is a very incomplete explanation.

The book is extensively documented from financial sources and via references to literature, film, and music.

This study of Wall Street’s language and rhetorical methods benefits Wall Street professionals, Main Street residents, businesses, politicians, and regulators seeking insight on how and why Wall Street sermons attract and convince them. Enticed by the oratory of Wall Street and its allies, many millions of Main Street dwellers around the globe have marched into and remained within Wall Street, often to “invest”. The recent worldwide economic crisis underlines the importance of Wall Street marketplaces, even for those who have not carried their own money directly to Wall Street tables.

“Words on the Street” demolishes the scientific ambitions and claims, not only of Wall Street, but also of economics and other social “sciences”. “Words” investigates and discredits the counterfeit science (alleged objectivity) of the influential armies of would-be Newtons, Einsteins, Darwins, and Fords roaming throughout Wall Street and economics. Its analysis of Wall Street language in the context of the American Dream will fascinate American history scholars and students. Finally, “Words” provides an innovative yet persuasive explanation of cultural reasoning and how it differs from scientific rationality.


“An exceptionally interesting and timely new book from a distinguished alumnus of the University of Chicago. Using the humanistic ethnographer’s flair for catching the everyday language of his subjects, Words reveals the seductive rhetoric of Wall Street natives who entice unwitting investors to succumb to claims that only ostensibly rest on the analyses of hard science.”

Donald N. Levine

Peter B. Ritzma Professor Emeritus

Department of Sociology

University of Chicago

Dr. Levine serves on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Sociology, Journal of Classical Sociology, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Theory, Culture, and Society, and the Aiki Thought Papers. He is a former Dean of the College of the University of Chicago.

“I have known Leo for over 30 years. His illuminating and convincing book, Words on the Street, comprehensively analyzes Wall Street language and rhetorical strategies. Many readers will enjoy his exploration of Wall Street speech in the context of the American Dream. Words gives audiences a helpful new way of looking at stocks and other financial domains. Not only Wall Street insiders, but also Main Street inhabitants, economic and political decision-makers, and academics will benefit from reading this book.”

Gary L. Seevers, Ph.D.

Former Partner, Goldman Sachs

Former Commissioner, Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Former Member, President’s Council of Economic Advisers

Member, Futures Industry Hall of Fame

“Leo Haviland’s Words on the Street is an entertaining and convincing study of Wall Street language by a very experienced Wall Street insider. The book’s analysis of and striking insights regarding Wall Street and economic (and other cultural) language games (wordplay) will interest and enlighten academic professionals as well as Main Street observers. Words on the Street provides Main Street and Wall Street readers with a new way of looking at stocks and other marketplaces. Haviland’s discernment of Wall Street language as it relates to the American Dream will fascinate observers of American history and culture. Haviland’s investigation of rhetoric makes a significant contribution to the field of economics/business/finance and the other social sciences.”

Benjamin R. Silliman, Ed.D.

Associate Professor of Accounting and Taxation

Peter J. Tobin College of Business

St. John’s University, New York City

“I have worked at both brokerage and hedge funds since the start of my career in 1974. I had
the great fortune of meeting Leo during my 10 years while working at Steinhardt Partners. Leo’s
insights have always been thought provoking and his conclusions have usually been quite correct.

I enjoyed reading Words on the Street, Leo’s latest book. I particularly enjoyed the chapter
relating game playing and Wall Street. I recommend Words on the Street not only to professional
traders and investors, but even more for those thinking of becoming involved in the world of

Charles Levy

President, Charles Levy Trading

“In Words on the Street, Leo Haviland weaves an enlightening and entertaining analysis of the metaphorical games and persuasive strategies played on Wall Street. Leo pulls in his many years of financial market experience, including quotes and stories from the popular press and desks of trading houses. Its study of Wall Street language in the context of the American Dream highlights and explains the allure of Wall Street wordplay to Main Street investors faithfully chasing the Dream.”

Keith Boris
Wall Street trader, NYC

“Leo Haviland’s Words on the Street records the musings of a successful multi-market advisor. Prominent on the Street, he watched and listened while many of our country’s brightest learned to charm customers into “investing” through their firms.

L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, remarked: “If you want to make a little money, write a book. If you want to make a lot of money, create a religion.” These three decades have been a time of religious zeal as fund managers have delivered above-passbook returns on behalf of clients. The markets’ chiefs and high yields have conditioned savers to “invest” our money by paying others to handle it instead of using it to create value ourselves.

What an enduring promotion it has been, to cluster phrases of faith with pitches that have lured savers to abdicate to corporations and money managers, those “oracles” who have inspired blind trust to buy-and-hold their offerings for the long game. For most families who have placed their earnings at the feet of banks and corporations, it has worked out fine; the jagged thirty-year uptrend has been their friend. The devastation dealt those forced to cash-out in 1998, 2002, or 2008, however, has led some to wonder if keeping that particular kind of faith is all that smart.

The voluntary entwinement of citizens’ security with Wall Street’s gains owes much to our language, especially the use of metaphors linking financial risk-taking to triumph in religion, love, physical science, sex, art, politics, and war. Mr. Haviland shares his fascinated observation of metaphorical development to implore us to give attention to decisions which distinguish old-fashioned investment from speculation or even gambling.

Rare is the saver who has not consoled himself over the speculative risk in his portfolio with expected sensory rewards like being married [to the market], experiencing a [financial] honeymoon, carrying a sweet smell of success [from the latest bull run], dodging a bullet [relative to a colleague’s loss], and anticipating a lifetime of comfort [based upon that thirty year uptrend]. Mr. Haviland has assembled an encyclopedic, convincing array of ways savers have embraced the legends Wall Street marketers have spun, so much that it dominates our language, our expectations and our lives.

The aim of Mr. Haviland’s treatise, though, is not to destroy the institution of the bull nor the fund managers it employs. Instead, he would compel all lambs to give themselves a shake, develop an objective awareness, and get involved in decisions impacting their own assets. Sarbanes-Oxley made corporate managers personally responsible for the activities of their firms, and Dodd-Frank added limits to banks’ activities, leading firms to seek risk reduction which can only result in lower long term yield. If the savers of our nation continue to demand higher yield on passive investments, our capitalist marketplace will feed the sharks. What if we each gave up a bit of our leisure time to read that prospectus, used part of a family vacation to take our children to a shareholders meeting, studied before we signed that proxy? There is much at stake here; updating our metaphors for financial success to reflect rational expectations would be a start toward a healthier entwinement of citizens’ investment in support of Wall Street strength.”

Cathy E. Davis
Houston, Texas

Many books have been written about the ways, and the wiles, of Wall Street. Even more have been penned about the American Dream: either in celebration, critique, or some combination thereof. But none are like Words on the Street. Leo Haviland presents us with an insightful— often iconoclastic—study of how language works in the stock, bond, commodity, and currency markets, and the consequences for investors, regulators, elected officials and the general public.

The metaphors chosen and the rhetorical strategies employed by professionals, Haviland suggests, not only encourage millions to invest, but also entice their users into believing in the rationality of the market. He marshals an extraordinarily wide range of sources in making his case: from brokers’ and bankers’ memoranda, to advertising campaigns, to motion pictures and multimedia. He demonstrates that the central metaphors used on, and by, the Street are not limited to the technical discourse of dollars and cents, but are drawn from the wider cultural currents of politics, religion, sports, sex, science and the fine arts. His most extensive arguments are directed against those who claim that economic matters must be studied with “objective” methods adopted from the natural sciences. He insists, to the contrary, that business and finance are subjective phenomena, and are best approached from the perspectives of cultural analysis. Words on the Street is a caveat emptor from an insider to those who would entrust their money to investment professionals, and a caveat venditor from a former colleague to those who would fall prey to their own sales pitches. Although published in 2011, its main points and messages remain timely for both academic audiences and readers at large.

Martin J. Burke
Professor of History and American Studies
Lehman College and the Graduate Center
The City University of New York
Dr. Burke is Executive Co-Editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas.

In the marketplace, words matter. One of the most interesting things — which is not to say, good — happening right now is the shifting relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. There are many reasons for this shift, but the result is that, so far, Wall Street is winning and Main Street is not. If you want to know the cause of this shift, plus why and how this relationship changed from symbiosis to cross-purpose, you’ve come to the right place. Leo Haviland wrote the book that will provide that illumination. With decades in the trenches observing both “Streets,” Leo has the perspective and the courage to tell it like it is: Smart, comprehensive and not the least politically correct. Just the kind of author I want to follow.

Words on the Street is part of my library, but it stays handy, on my desk, an important part of my journey of understanding the marketplace. Full disclosure, Leo is a regular guest on my radio program, and a resident high finance guru for my audience.

Jim Blasingame
The Small Business Advocate

Mr. Blasingame is one of the world’s leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He is the creator and award-winning host of the syndicated radio program, “The Small Business Advocate Show”, a syndicated columnist, and author of “The Age of the Customer” and other books.