Shaving the ladies
March 8, 2009 4:38 AM   Subscribe

Paul Keating recently said that the people running the banks in Australia were 'counterhoppers'. What did he mean?

Counter hoppers - according to Partridge are: dedicated followers of fashion
or did Keating mean counter jumpers as draper’s assistant, who jumps over the counter to go from one part of the shop to another.
Further, was it really a compound word created by Poe
posted by tellurian to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You tell me baby.
posted by tellurian at 4:43 AM on March 8, 2009

I think this quote should clarify:
Australia's banks, by contrast, are strong, said Keating, because of his decision as Treasurer to create the "Four Pillars" policy. This requires that the four big banks remain separate, barred from taking each other over. This prevented them "cannibalising each other", in Keating's words. As protected species, they had no need to mount risky takeovers to bulk themselves up defensively.

Their strength certainly wasn't due to the brilliance of their managers, whom Keating described as "counterhopping clerks" who had managed to work their way up the bank hierarchies.
(Sydney Morning Herald: Obama's economic saviour savaged as Keating lets rip.)

Ahh, that Keating. Always a charmer.
posted by Georgina at 5:38 AM on March 8, 2009

don't bank robbers normally hop the counter?
posted by onya at 7:29 AM on March 8, 2009

My wild guess would be clerks previously working on the front side of the counter, now running the joint from behind the counter?
posted by freq at 7:57 AM on March 8, 2009

Doesn't Keating have a reputation for using colourful, prosaic idiom? Could be one of those things where it sounds better spoken than it does when written in print.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2009

And Keating is Australia's Finance Minister? That's wild. I'm sure he can do a good job, but I guess it shows you just how much Australia's Labour Party is controlled by a faction from the past.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:55 AM on March 8, 2009

I can see the aptness of the "dedicated follower of fashion" meaning of counterhopper. What I take it to mean is that bank managers, and business people in general, are always trying to follow the crowd with the decisions they make. If Idea X is in fashion, they follow it blindly without doing their own analysis as to whether its necessary/useful in their particular scenario. How many failed business people are out there who X months ago were proudly proclaiming that "business isn't done that way any more, now we use Idea X!" "Making money by selling products and services people desire is passe- we make OUR money by trading tulip bulbs!"

(A good example might be to look at the proclaimations of the GOP toward the end of the Bush administration. Saying things like "we don't think reality is accurate" and "you guys are stuck in the old reality-based way of looking at things". They were in a way being counterhoppers, following the fashion of "perception is reality" to an illogical extreme.)
posted by gjc at 9:17 AM on March 8, 2009

Paul Keating is a former Prime Minister. Australia isn't good at finding things for former leaders to do: they traditionally sit on the sidelines and explain how much better they did things, back when. In Keating's case, he combines a certain amount of bitterness (the way you become a former Prime Minister is by being rejected by your party, your electorate, or both) with a gift for invective. I think what he means is that these bankers are former bank tellers (who would have worked behind their banks' counters) who have risen through the ranks. I have no idea whether this is true.

If that's what he meant then it's an odd criticism to be made by the former leader of the nominally-socialist Australian Labor Party. After all, the most famous Labor leader to become Prime Minister was Ben Chifley, a former train driver.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:00 PM on March 8, 2009

I'd've thought bank robbers.
posted by pompomtom at 2:42 PM on March 8, 2009

And Keating is Australia's Finance Minister? That's wild.

No, he isn't.
posted by Wolof at 5:19 PM on March 8, 2009

I read "counterhopping clerk" as being someone who worked in a junior position who then worked their way up. The term isn't disparaging; he's describing someone with a solid background in the business and not enough imagination to make either a brilliant move or a fabulously destructive one.

(I long for Keating's so-called invective. He is responsible for the best political put-down ever. When asked whether Andrew Peacock would ever become PM, he responded that "souffle never rises twice.")
posted by firstdrop at 6:25 PM on March 8, 2009

I thought 'counterhopper' simply referred to frontline customer service staff in a bank. They move from counter to counter as people go on breaks, attend to other business etc. Stand in line in a bank (a novel experience these days) and watch how long tellers actually stay at any given window.

I took it as a disparaging remark, a bit like 'fries monkey' for a restaurant manager.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:49 PM on March 8, 2009

Incidentally, I have heard the phrase 'jumping the counter' used in Australia to mean a staff member of a shop or cafe dating a customer. Obviously that's not what it means here. I think KoKuRyu is probably right about Keating's actual meaning... a prosaic but generally-disparaging remark that sounded good at the time.

My favourite Keating taunt was when he called then-opposition frontbencher Alexander Downer 'Shirley Temple'. Those were the days...
posted by 8k at 6:35 AM on March 9, 2009

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