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What semantic notions underlie the shift from the original meaning of 'security' (from Etymonline)

mid-15c., "condition of being secure," from Latin securitas, from securus "free from care" (see secure).

to its financial meaning (from Investopedia and OED)?

Investment securities are securities (tradable financial assets, such as equities or fixed income instruments) that are purchased in order to be held for investment. This is in contrast to securities, which are purchased by a broker-dealer or other intermediary, for quick resale (i.e. trading account securities).

e. Chiefly in plural. Originally: a document held by a creditor as a guarantee of the right to payment, or attesting ownership of property, stock, bonds, etc.; (hence) the financial asset represented by such a document. Also (orig. and chiefly U.S.): such a document issued to investors to finance a business venture.


Since posting this question, Google yielded answers from other websites. Jonathan Davis B.S. Finance, The Ohio State University at Quora:

They are called securities because there is a secure financial contract that is transferable, meaning it has clear, standardized, recognized terms, so can be bought and sold via the financial markets.

Morris Pearl at Quora:

“securities” is really just a word referring to certain things that are bought and sold in the financial markets.

The origin (not really relevant to today’s usage) is that the word “security” referred to the actual paper documents. The papers had no intrinsic value, but were evidence that the owner had a secure interest in receiving something (the payments on the bonds or the dividends on the stocks, etc.)

Benjamin Schak BA Mathematics (Swarthmore), JD magna cum laude (NYU). at Quora.

The original meaning of "security," which dates back to the mid-15th century, was property pledged to guarantee some debt or promise of the owner. Starting in the 17th century, the word came to be used for a document evidencing a debt, and eventually for any document representing a financial investment. By the late 19th century, the word could refer to any tradeable investment — fixed income or equity or otherwise, and collateralized or not.

When used as a mass noun ("I pledged Blackacre and Greenacre as security on my mortgage"), "security" still has the older definition. The newer definition uses "security" as a count noun ("XYZ Company's stock is a volatile security" or "She usually holds securities for a long time").

Our modern usage doesn't quite make sense etymologically, but the same can be said of plenty of words. We don't usually sit on benches to deal with "banks," people who hold bonds don't literally cut "coupons," "preferred equity" is an obvious oxymoron, I can buy a "Eurodollar" contract in Chicago, "hedge funds" take directional views, etc.

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    Where is it said that security means instruments that cause insecurities ? I think that its origin is very clearly explained in the extract you are showing. What is your question? – user66974 May 22 '15 at 5:32
  • INsecurity was written that way because the original poster in your link asked about unsecurity, the answerer was correcting the error. – Mari-Lou A May 22 '15 at 7:16
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    Sigh. The security was the piece of paper which proves you owe me money. The IOU with your signature on it. Having that document gave me comfort -- a sense of security -- that if it came to a dispute, it wouldn't simply be my word against yours: I have the piece of paper, the document, the security, to prove I gave you money and you promised to pay it back. – Dan Bron May 22 '15 at 10:06
  • Yep, "insecurity" Is a vague attempt at humor, since ownership of certain securities is apt to lead to worry. – Hot Licks May 22 '15 at 12:07
  • which mental insecurities because of financial risk, volatility (???) – Mari-Lou A May 24 '15 at 4:31
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I don't know exactly what you refer to by "cause insecurities" but I think the etymology you already included is a good fit for this type of "proof of ownership".

Obviously the value of what you own can vary greatly (is that what you refer to?) but that is a separate issue from having something that attests the ownership.

  • Yes, probably OP refers to the volatility in securities prices on The Stock Exchange. A totally unrelated issue. – user66974 May 22 '15 at 6:43
  • @Josh61 I updated the OP. Better now? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal May 24 '15 at 3:46

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