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Clawback is a very ugly-sounding ugly-looking word. Whoever said words are arbitrary combinations of letters put together to signify something is wrong. The sound matters.

First it was Olympic medals and Tour de France anointments, clawed back for drug use. Then people suggested clawing back bonuses, which they tried on Grasso, unsuccessfully. Now I have seen suggestions to take back Nobel prizes too. What next? I live in fear and trembling lest Wilmott magazine demand back the 2006 Wilmott Award for Contributions to Quantitative Finance that I once perhaps unjustly received.

I have greater scruples than Dick Grasso — I’m much more like John Thain or John Mack, to tell the truth — and so I’m going to voluntarily return my award. Hang on a while while I try to find it ? Hmmm, I don’t recall actually getting anything material, somehow ? Damn ? there must have been something ? I think I got an email ? perhaps I can make the email bounce back ? nope, I think I deleted it ? Ummm ? maybe I’ll just be rude to Paul next time I see him ?

The truth is that prizes are mostly arbitrary and not decided on Mount Olympus. (Sainthood, now that’s a different matter entirely.) I’m on the committee of some prize that will go unnamed, and in the end it’s just a bunch of people who ate a hurried breakfast that morning, burped once or twice on the way into work, and then voted. They maybe weren’t smart enough to give it, and they probably aren’t smart enough to know when to take it back.

For some reason I can’t put my finger on all this sound and fury about taking Nobel prizes back reminds me of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme I learned when I was a child and then read to my own children:


Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

To see a fine lady upon a white horse

With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes

She shall have music wherever she goes


I wonder why.

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