Beware the Dead Cat Bounce (and Other Stock Market Jargon)

Learn the language of Wall Street veterans.

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There’s the language of love — and then there’s the language of Wall Street.

Sayings such as “catch a falling knife” or “shoot first, ask questions later” aren’t quite sweet nothings, but they do make colorful sound bites. Whether you’re just flirting with investing or head-over-heels for the stock market, you’ll eventually hear some phrases that give you pause.

What the dickens do Wall Street veterans mean when they say these things? Here’s a guide to common stock jargon.

It was the best of times …

Buy the dip, often abbreviated as BTD or BTFD (you can likely deduce what the F means): Half legitimate strategy, half jokey catchphrase, you’ll often find this referenced on social media. The idea is to buy an asset when its price dips — provided you believe the price will rise again. That being said, trying to time the market might cost you.

More room to run: Someone who uses this bit of market jargon believes that prices will go higher — basically, the good times aren’t over yet.

'More room to run' implies that prices will continue to go higher — basically, the good times aren’t over yet.

Taking profits (or profit taking): This is a fancy way of saying you sold an asset (and made money). This phrase can also describe a dip in a stock price during a period when it's otherwise appreciating — a phenomenon sometimes attributed to investors taking their profits.

Green shoots: Think the early signs of spring. This phrase commonly references signs of the beginning of economic growth.

It was the worst of times …

Dead cat bounce: Not an ideal scenario in any usage. Chart-watchers use this phrase after a stock price takes a sharp fall, then rebounds a bit. The idea is that any recovery will be short-lived.

Catch a falling knife: This is a way to describe the perils of investing. When a stock’s price is plummeting, potential buyers could be in for a rude awakening if still more declines are coming.

Frothy: Picture a drink topped with bubbles. In Wall Street talk, "frothy" is another way of saying prices are unsustainably high.

Rush for the exits: This phrase describes what happens when people panic and sell their stocks at the beginning of a market decline, exacerbating the severity of the selloff. (To avoid a knee-jerk reaction, ask yourself these questions before selling a stock.)

It was the most confusing of times ...

Don’t fight the Fed: No fisticuffs here. This bit of advice endorses accepting Federal Reserve policy, so your portfolio benefits from such changes, rather than resisting (and likely losing money).

Buy the rumor, sell the news: This saying is more relevant to day traders than long-term investors. (Don’t know the difference? See our page on day trading.) There are occasionally short-term trading opportunities surrounding rumors — be it economic reports, company-specific announcements or other developments. Buying when the rumor surfaces (and prices are still low) can benefit traders when the news appears and lifts prices.

Shoot first, ask questions later (or: Sell now, ask questions later): This describes a situation less serious than a rush for the exits. It means sellers are motivated to get out — even if they don’t yet fully understand why.

'Don't fight the Fed' endorses accepting whatever policy the Federal Reserve enacts.

A stock picker’s market: This is a favorite among fund managers who pick individual stocks for a living. It refers to a period in which investors who buy individual stocks fare better than those in passive investments, such as mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. Unfortunately for stock pickers, their approach often falls short over the long term.

Pullback (usually accompanied by words such as healthy, good, normal, etc.): "Pullback" is Wall Street jargon for a decline. Pairing it with a word such as “healthy” or “normal” is a way for investors to say a decline in a stock’s price is just fine — it’ll go up again soon enough.

Window dressing: Retailers aren't the only ones who put on a show around the holidays to entice shoppers. Fund managers may make some late-quarter tweaks to appeal to investors, selling losing investments and buying winners.

Wall of worry: There’s a lot to worry about, but everything will be OK. This phrase suggests investors can overcome bad news to push stock prices higher again. It's not as simple as “more room to run,” however — there may be some barriers.

The market doesn’t move in a straight line: In case you haven’t noticed yet, stock prices move up and down — and that’s normal. Investors have come up with numerous ways to say just that.

It’s already priced in: Because the market is forward-looking, information that’s already known — projections for a company’s revenue or earnings in a future quarter, for example — is taken into account in stock prices. If markets were as efficient as this phrase suggests, however, there wouldn’t be a need for all this other jargon.