For anyone who hasn’t been already initiated into the Cult of Billions—also known in some circles as House of Wags—the idea of starting Showtime’s financial drama series might be a little intimidating. The show does, after all, focus on a hedge fund manager, a U.S. attorney, and a great deal of financial jargon that might come across like a foreign language. But all the finance speak serves as a helpful, necessary tone-setter for a perpetually entertaining dick-swinging contest between two hot-headed dudes that takes a ton of casualties.
For those looking for a Billions refresher before the fourth season premieres March 17, or for anyone seeking a helpful reference guide as they dive headfirst into a binge, I present the Billions Dictionary: a glossary of financial terminology, company names, abbreviations, and other essential tidbits to get the most out of your viewing experience. Sit back, treat yourself to a serving of ortolan, short some Ice Juice, and enjoy.
ATM (n.) — This is silly, I already know what this means! you might be thinking, laughing your way to the bank to make a deposit. Not quite. While ATM indeed stands for automated teller machine in the real world, that is not how the abbreviation is used in the Billionsverse. According to the wise sage of body sushi, Mike “Wags” Wagner, ATM stands for “ass to mouth.” I’ll let him take it from here.
Axe Capital (n.) — the name of the hedge fund company run by Bobby “Axe” Axelrod. “Axe Cap” for short.
BDSM (n.) — An abbreviation that stands for the sexual practice of bondage, domination (or discipline, for the fancier folk), sadism, and masochism. Even if you’ve watched only the pilot of Billions, you’ll know that BDSM is the kinky fabric that holds Chuck and Wendy Rhoades’s marriage together. The show opened with Emmy-winning thespian Paul Giamatti getting peed on, for goodness sake.
I will not include a GIF of this act; this guide is intended to be safe to view in workspaces and primarily libraries. Instead, I will include another BDSM-related GIF of Paul Giamatti getting spanked by Maggie Siff. Is it slightly inappropriate, and something that’d be awkward to explain to somebody who walks by your laptop or smartphone? Sure, but at least it doesn’t involve urine.
Champlain, The (n.) — The name of the luxurious boat owned by Lawrence Boyd—former CEO of Spartan Ives. It is unclear what the Champlain looks like, but given that Boyd used to run the fictional version of Goldman Sachs, I suspect it’s on par with Dan Snyder’s IMAX theater superyacht.
cooking the books (exp.) — Changing the numbers of a company’s financial records in order to make a company look more profitable to investors, steal money from the company, or avoid a higher tax rate. In Season 1, Axe gets some dirt that telecommunications company Mundia-Tel’s stock is about to crater from six of its top executives cooking the books. Axe Cap sells its position in Mundia-Tel, and Axe pretends that he’s going through a midlife crisis so that other investors don’t follow suit. When the telecom market goes down, everyone but Axe Cap sinks along with it.
Dollar Bill (n.) — Not a form of currency, but the nickname of Axe Cap employee and frequent vest wearer Bill “Dollar Bill” Stearn. Dollar Bill literally keeps a lucky dollar bill on his desk; he’s fiercely loyal to Axe; and he’s notoriously cheap, despite being a multimillionaire. The cheapness might be an integral facet of his personality; it also might have something to do with the man having two families to support financially.
dominatrix (n.) — A dominant woman who subjects someone to bondage and sexual punishment. In Billions, this role is assumed not just by Wendy, but by a professional dominatrix whom the Rhoades hire when they want to get extra freaky. (Not kink-shaming, just stating encyclopedic facts.)
family office (exp.) — A boutique advisory firm that manages the finances for a fund manager and cannot handle outside money. They are, in other words, smaller than hedge funds—and hedge funds can voluntarily downsize to a family office, which is what happens in Billions’ second season. Steven Birch—one of Axe’s rivals—turns his hedge fund, Piedmont Capital, into a family office after Chuck’s office threatens to pursue legal action against the company.
Farpoint (n.) — A private space travel company run by Craig Heidecker, a.k.a. Bob Benson from Mad Men. Farpoint is the Billions equivalent of SpaceX, with Heidecker being a much more suave, likable version of Elon Musk. He and Wendy Rhoades had a brief fling—this has no standing on the definition of Farpoint, but it does mean that Bob Benson hooked up with Rachel Menken, and that’s weird.
fuck-you money (n.) — A sum of money large enough to enable one to say “fuck you” to an enemy.
golden frog poison (exp.) — A toxic excretion from a small dart frog native to Colombia, which is applied to the tips of weapons by indigenous tribes.
To use it in a sentence: Wags almost died trying to get high off golden frog poison. “I tried to smoke it once,” he tells Axe in Season 2. “Shaman jumped across the tent to stop me.”
hedge fund (n.) — A private company that invests its clients’ money with the intent of realizing large capital gains. Because of this, there’s risk inherent to putting money through a hedge fund—but if you’re good at it, like Axe and his team are, you and the company will make a lot of money. Still, because there’s always at least some risk involved, it’s scary when Russian oligarch Grigor Andolov—played with a delightfully thick Russian accent by John Malkovich—threatens to physically harm Axe and his family if he loses any money in Season 3. (Nobody ever said getting rich would be stress-free!)
Ice Juice (n.) — A lovely juice company with delicious beverages that are in no way tainted with harmful bacteria. I know that the name “Ice Juice” might be confusing—wouldn’t that imply that water is technically the juice derived from melted ice?—but I can assure you, it’s pressed juice, and not fancy water or something. In a sentence: “Boy, I could sure use a refreshing Ice Juice on this hot summer afternoon.”
idea dinner (n.) — A meetup between influential business moguls to socialize and discuss trading strategies. Axe hosts an idea dinner in the Season 3 premiere, which included cameos from actual big-time traders like Michael Adam Karsch, Marc Lasry, and Michael Platt.
insider trading (n.) — A criminal practice of trading stock while having access to confidential information. This is the sketchy specialty of Dollar Bill. Chuck continually tries to pinch Axe for insider trading—though things got a little more complicated during the Ice Juice scandal when Wendy shorted Ice Juice right before Bacteriagate.
IPO (n.) — An abbreviation for initial public offering, when a company goes public for the first time. Sticking with Ice Juice as an example, the IPO for the company was expected to be huge for anyone who invested in it, which made its spectacular, bacteria-laden fall all the more devastating for Chuck’s poor pal Ira. (Chuck intentionally lost $27 million on the Ice Juice fiasco, proving he’d literally spend tens of millions of dollars to stick it to Axe. I love this show.)
Little League Baseball (n.) — An organized sport for youths, the games of which Wags is prohibited from attending for unexplained reasons.
long/long position (n.) — Buying stock in something when you expect its value to rise in the future. Billions doesn’t really deal in long positions, because it’s not as cinematic to patiently watch an investment gain incremental value over an extended period of time. It’s more fun to “short” something; more on that later.
ortolan (n.) — A small songbird and French delicacy that is widely controversial due to its preparation methods (capturing, torturing, force-feeding, drowning in Armagnac brandy). In Season 3, Axe and Wags eat three of these fellas in one sitting—though not without covering their faces with a napkin, as the French are wont to do.
A fondness for ortolan is something Billions shares with Succession, HBO’s own financial drama that’s a perfect companion series. In that series, the characters Cousin Greg and Tom feast on ortolan at a fancy restaurant. And they also cover their heads with napkins.
quant (n.) — An abbreviation for analysts who use a quantitative, algorithmic approach to markets and trading. Taylor Mason wants to hire some “quants” at Axe Cap in Season 3, which causes some employees to flip out at the thought of being replaced by a bunch of Nate Silvers. Here is one of Taylor’s hired quants, apparently when Axe Cap was having its annual “dress as your favorite character from The Matrix to work” day.
Sci-Fit Gym (n.) — A VR-centric gym, backed by former hedge fund manager Pete Decker, that is, somehow, not yet the subject of an episode of Black Mirror.
short/short position (n.) — Aww yeah. The act in which someone, expecting a stock to fall, sells it at a higher price before buying it back at a lower price for profit. There are several short positions on Billions that create a lot of dramatic stakes. Like when Wendy shorts Ice Juice and makes millions of dollars from the company’s catastrophic Bacteriagate, or when Axe shorts the company Lumetherm after faux-rumors of a merger. In the world of Billions, when Axe is shorting something, its days are probably numbered. If one day, Axe decided, “I’m going to short the polar ice caps,” we’d slowly succumb to a complete environment collapse and he’d defend himself by saying, “Well, it was a really good position.”
short squeeze (n.) — When someone shorts something and expects its value to crater, but instead the opposite happens and the stock increases in value. This is another way that the Rhoades clan tries to screw over Axe, like when Chuck Sr.—who also occasionally snogs his son on the lips, Tom Brady–style—intentionally pumps the stock price of a trucking company that Axe had shorted.
Spartan Ives (n.) — An investment bank that serves as Axe Cap’s prime broker—meaning it helps with financial services like securities lending and cash management. The company’s CEO, Lawrence Boyd, gets caught in the Axe-Chuck crossfire in Season 2 and is incarcerated by Chuck.
Sushi Nakazawa (n.) — An exemplary dining establishment where the nigiri is precisely sauced, and where any heathens who dip their nigiri in soy sauce or top it with slices of ginger will face the wrath of Wags. Chef Daisuke Nakazawa did not spend 10 years learning how to make the tamago to be disrespected in such a fashion.
Wags (n.) — A synonym for God.
War Chest (n.) — Cash reserves set aside by a company with the intent of using it to acquire other companies or as an emergency valve when financial difficulty arises. In Season 1’s sixth episode, when Chuck puts public pressure on Axe Cap, Axe asks Wags to liquidate 2 percent of the company into a “war chest.” (Axe was confident they’d prevail, but you know, safety precautions.)
World-Aid (n.) — The Billions equivalent of UNICEF. Don’t you like the name? It’s like a Band-Aid, except for the world.
YumTime (n.) — A Hostess-esque bakery company that Axe buys a 4.9 percent ownership stake in during the first season. One of Axe’s first moves is convincing the board to fire YumTime’s CEO. In classic Axe fashion, this play wasn’t because he suddenly had a vested interest in the minutiae of wholesale baked goods—it was because one of the women on the board, Evelyn Benson, was having an affair with Chuck Sr. In addition to the CEO getting booted, Evelyn was also relieved from her seat on the board. This was the third episode, and Axe was already throwing money around to piss off his archenemy’s father.