The Etymology of Risk

Interesting sidebar from Nick Colas’s note this morning on the origin of the word “risk”…

The origins of the English word “Risk” date back thousands of years.  The ancient Greeks defined “Rhizikon” as a seafaring term – a rock or other danger to be avoided.  There is a similar Latin word – “Riscus” – with the same meaning.  By some accounts, this word passed into Arabic as “Rizk” with a meaning similar to “Fate” or the uncertain outcome of work and toil.  From there it hopped the Mediterranean again to Europe in the 1500s, as “Rysigo” (German), “risco” (Italian) and “risquer” (French). In all cases it essentially meant “Danger”.

Fast forward to the last 200 years or so, and “Risk” is a word on the rise.  A look at Google Ngram – a search engine tool that allows you to see how often a given word is used across books, newspapers and magazines through time – shows that the usage of “Risk” was fairly stagnant from 1800 to the early 1960s. The frequency with which it appeared during this 160 year stretch ran from 0.002% to 0.004%, about as often as words like “Poverty” or “dog”.  Starting in 1970, however, “Risk” became a hot topic.  The frequency of its usage increased by over 3.5x, peaking in 2006 at 0.015%. That may not sound like a lot, but the word “Risk” now appears in print four times more often in English-language press than the word “Weather”, according to Ngram.  And you know how popular the weather is…

Source:

Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at Convergex, a global brokerage company based in New York.

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