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Did you know? Black Swan

Extremely rare. Severe in consequence. Hard to predict.

These are the three criteria that characterise a black swan event. Finance professor, writer and former Wall Street trader, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, first popularised the term in 2001, later authoring The Black Swan in 2007— well before the Global Financial Crisis, which he considered to be a classic Black Swan (Taleb capitalises the term).

The first recorded use of the term ‘black swan’ was second-century Roman poet Juvenal's reference in his Satire VI to something impossibly rare, ‘very much like a black swan’. At the time and for the next 1,500 years, swans were all assumed to be white, as no black swans had ever been sighted. This changed in 1697 when Dutch explorers encountered black swans in western Australia (the black swan features on the flag of Western Australia). 

Taleb himself becomes irritated when the COVID-19 pandemic is referred to as a Black Swan. He says that a Black Swan was never intended to be ‘a cliché for any bad thing that surprises us’ and he considers the pandemic, or at least its trajectory, to have been predictable.


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