Traders are ruder than the French if you attempt to speak their language and botch it. When I broke in at Goldman Sachs, I dreaded sitting on the trading desk. “Size to go, U-Tex, Ranch-sized buyer I-Beam, I’ll make Intel 18 to a quarter 200 up?” It’s a code, a code that exists only in stocks. You don’t put in a bid in stocks; you hit a bid. You don’t buy; you take. I-Beam was and is IBM. UTX is United Technologies -- pronounced U-Tex because that’s how a third-grader would pronounce it, like Texas Instruments being Texan because of its TXN symbol. Acronymic hell.
Traders are obsessed with size and defining size in clever graphic ways. Knowing the “size” is everything. “What kind of size you looking at?” “Can you fit in 200?” “Sizola size, like seven-figure size.” Of course, the obsession with size spills over to penis and breast size without hesitation.
I learned the language from John Lattanzio, the boss of my fiancée (now wife), Karen Backfisch, who is known not as the Trading Goddess but as the T.G., because it takes too long to say Trading Goddess, and time’s money. Everything’s money. Lattanzio -- who called me Small Dick because of the meager assets I ran and the tiny trades I was doing -- remains a larger-than-life master of trading cant. After year three, he stopped calling me Small Dick, something that I regarded as terrific because I thought soon I would be S.D. among his friends -- instead, he insisted I was Jimmy. Of course, I explained to him that only my late mother ever called me that, which is the way I liked it. “Fine,” he said -- and then called me nothing but Jimmy for the next fifteen years.
Lattanz knew that the cadence of true Wall Street gibberish must be kept rapid at all times. Sometimes, just to torture traders, he would speak an order so fast that he knew the trader wouldn’t get it: “Shoe” -- for Lou the Shoe, of course -- “take 250,000 fdkhkjhfdkjhd, i top,” he would growl. Then he would instruct all of the other traders, including my wife, “Don’t pick up the Shoe when the light starts blinking.” He would let Shoe ring again and again just to cause angst, a hysterically funny trading joke unless, of course, you were the Shoe.
Traders love the puerile. If you acted out when you had a substitute teacher, you could have had a career in trading. I can’t tell you how many times a trader has called whatever woman is on the desk for the first time and said, “Hey, hon, could you yell out to Lattanz that Mike Hunt’s on the line?” No matter how many EEOC complaints get filed, I think Mike Hunt will still be calling long after women rule. (In fact, ‘Who’s Dick Hertz?’ is probably still the fave inquiry of most trading shops.) It’s too bad traders can’t be taken right out of fourth grade and put on the desks, fresh from watching Three Stooges episodes. But then again, would fourth-graders know enough anatomy to take it to the more brutal levels? A good question we’ll never know the answer to.