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My portfolio of investments under-performed the major stock indices.

Common usage of portfolio to refer to a collection of investments seems etymologically wrong, since a portfolio is literally a portable collection of leaves or sheets (e.g., of paper).

"Portfolio" seems properly suited to describe a collection of written, drawn, or printed work that one would actually carry around, typically to showcase or sell one's creative work.

(I imagine the use of "portfolio" to describe investments originated in the era in which the ownership of securities took the form of stock or bond certificates, or other written contracts, which one might indeed collect in a portfolio. Though even then the prefix port seems as odd as the idea of carrying around a folio of one's securitized property. Why was it not simply an "investment folio?")

What is a more appropriate word for a collection of investments that could contain real estate or valuable objects that are neither portable nor sheet-like?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 3, 2021 at 21:00

2 Answers 2

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English is not always literal.

A record "album" was once a booklet (similar to a photo album) containing several 78-rpm disks. Later it became a single disk containing multiple songs.

We once dialed the phone by turning a dial; now we usually do so by pressing buttons.

We still "ring the door-bell" even though it nowadays is as likely to produce a sound from a speaker as it is to involve an actual bell.

A file was once a wire used to hold a collection of papers, but is now more often a digital recording on magnetic (or other) media.

The word book originally referred to the bark of a tree on which we wrote. Now we write on paper, but we still call bound writings books.

And a portfolio of investments was once a collection of paper certificates that could be contained in a portfolio, but it is now more often a collection of digital records.

Expecting the word we use for something (the investments we own) to change just because the nature of the thing itself has evolved is expecting a radical change in how English works.

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A modern or more accurate word would be Collection or Holdings though many words could be used to group a firm's holdings or assets together into a finite set.

The original word Portfolio was for the piece of luggage described in collinsdictionary.com as "A flat case, esp of leather, used for carrying maps, drawings, etc."

The word has become the idiom meaning the contents of the case whether they are investments, real estate holdings or diplomatic documents even if they do not fit into a case. It is the collection of the person's, or company's materials relevant to their function.

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