Bankers have been described by their critics with the most colourful of phrases. British politicians in the 1960s lashed out at Swiss bankers who they accused of trying to undermine the UK economy. The “gnomes of Zurich" soon became a common phrase. Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia was more crude—he claimed that people betting against the ringgit were evil Jewish speculators.

The idea of bond vigilantes who bring down governments also has a long history. As an official in the Bill Clinton administration said: “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody."

Soon after the North Atlantic financial crisis, the writer Matt Taibbi famously described investment bank Goldman Sachs as a great vampire squid. The Chinese leadership has now added a new phrase to the dictionary of financial insults: Premier Li Keqiang recently called financiers financial crocodiles.

Language tells us a lot.