Cooking the books. (Language Corner).



No, this is not the speciality of a French chefs nouvelle cuisine, hut rather of crooked accountants as in the case of WorldCom, where false entries in the bookkeeping totalled over $6 billion. This made the company go bankrupt and file Chapter 11 of the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Act.

Chapter 11 allows a company to continue operations while working out a plan for repaying its debts. In Europe, such a grace period is generally not granted, least of all to companies such as WorldCom which are involved in a fraudulent bankruptcy (betrugerischer Konkurs/banqueroute frauduleuse/bancarotta fraudolenta). Moreover, in the German-speaking area, cooked books are not known as gekochte Bucher but as a frisierte Bilanz, i.e. a balance sheet embellished by the "hairdresser." The French know this as comptes maquilles (maquillage=make-up), whereas Italians speak of un bilancio camuffato or a camouflaged balance sheet. If relatively harmless cosmetics embellishing the year-end financial statements are involved, bankers often term it as window dressing.

Now let's have a look at WorldCom's fat-cat CEO, Bernie Ebbers. He took a loan from his company amounting to the conspicuous sum of roughly $400 million. In German, he would earn the title Pumpgenie ("borrowing genius") because he never paid back his jumbo loan. The noun is derived from the colloquialism pumpen ("to pump") used for indiscriminate borrowing. Similar to a Yiddish shnorrer, a Pumpgenie is a virtuoso in the art of tapping all acquaintances for money and never paying it back. In the case of Bernie Ebbers, the loan was actually granted by his generous shareholders who lost tens of billions due to their CEO's nonperformance.

In the U.S., a hard-pressed small businessman cannot get a loan from his shareholders as lucky Bernie did. He often goes to a mafia loanshark or shylock (derived from the Jewish moneylender Shylock in Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice"). Depending on the risk, the shy may grant him the loan at an interest rate or vigorish of up to 20 per cent. Not per year, but per week! (Vigorish seems to be derived from Ukrainian Yiddish vygrash= profit). Loansharking is probably the mafia's most profitable and risk-free business. Payment behavior is excellent because defaulters risk being blown to pieces by a mafia hit man as a warning example for other loanshark debtors. Lucky for Bernie--despite his huge debt, he's still alive!

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