Monday, January 30, 2006

'Housing Bubble' Is No. 7 On Our Lips

Clever story in Sunday's New York Times. The chart at right is from their site. Here's an excerpt:
HOW best to describe the condition of the New York City real estate market? Is it "cooling" or "melting down?" Will there be a "pause?" A "soft landing?" A "slow leak?" Are you a "bubble" believer or of the "frothy" faith?

These and other buzzwords have been appearing in articles and rolling off the tongues of broadcasters. They are whirring around New York cocktail parties and being whispered in Wall Street elevators. It is the language of real estate. And real estate, as Pamela Liebman, chief executive and president of the Corcoran Group, put it, is "part of the language of New York."

It is a language at once glamorous and mundane, one that encompasses not only market catchphrases but scores of seductive adjectives that brokers use to describe properties. Yet as intangible as words are, they influence the decisions buyers, sellers and lenders make — and those decisions can affect the market. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Words are loaded pistols." A look at the most popular ones being bandied about nowadays may not reveal the future, but they reveal the pulse of the public. Its beat is a mix of fear, confusion and wishful thinking.

The yearning for a smooth transition from the surging market is seen in the increasingly frequent use in the last six months of the phrase "soft landing."

"Soft landing is everyone's big hope," said Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor (, which analyzes language trends and their impact on politics, culture and business.

Mr. Payack, who graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature, calculated the popularity of some 36 buzzwords chosen by a reporter. He used his Predictive Quantities Indicator, or P.Q.I., an algorithm that tracks words and phrases in the media and on the Internet in relation to frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media. It is a weighted index that takes into account year-to-year increases and acceleration in the last several months.

Among the market buzzwords he ranked, "soft landing" and "pause" had the highest P.Q.I.'s. They were ranked first and second respectively, while the more ominous sounding "housing bubble" ranked seventh. " 'Pause' is another one of these hopeful things," Mr. Payack said.

(Mr. Payack can also verify that "O.K." is the most frequently spoken word, that "outside the mainstream" was the top phrase of 2005 and that as of Jan. 26 at 10:59 a.m. Eastern time, the number of words in the English language was 986,120.)

— The Boy in the Big Housing Bubble