Trend Watch

US Stocks Experience 'Whipsaw'

Searches rise on reports of stock market fluctuation

Whipsaw hewed its way to the top of our lookups on February 6th, 2018, after the word found itself unfortunately applicable in a number of stories reporting on the volatility of the day’s financial markets.

US stocks whipsawed in early trading on Tuesday, as volatility on global markets intensified, breaking an extended period of calm for investors.
— Eric Platt, Michael Hunter, and Adam Samson, Financial Times (, 6 Feb. 2018

The word came into the English language in the 15th century as a noun, naming a type of narrow pit saw which averages 5 to 7 1/2 feet in length. It has been in use as a verb since the early 19th century, initially employed in literal fashion (“to saw with a whipsaw”).

Pine & oak timber whip-sawed at short notice.
— (advt.) American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD), 12 Jan. 1821

The figurative use, which we define as “to beset or victimize in two opposite ways at once, by a two-phase operation, or by the collusive action of two opponents,” began in the latter portion of the 19th century.

The boy returned with a ten-dollar bill, but this revenue had barely put him in fighting trim again when the ravenous monster with which he was doing battle deprived him of his weapons at a single blow. He was “whip-sawed” on the first two cases.
”Well, it does beat all,” he remarked, as he received this financial blow, “how many bets a man can lose.”
The Portland Daily Press (Portland, ME), 25 Mar. 1872

In a financial sense, a trader is said to be whipsawed when the price of a security suddenly moves in the opposite direction of a trade that they've just placed.

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