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Where does the term 'silver bullet' come from?

After Ben Bernanke and company took fresh aim this week at that menacing beast called the economy, one financial expert told us the Fed's arsenal is running out. And that reminded us how some commentators have long held out hope that the Fed might pull out some kind of magical ammunition.

Here's a few examples of where that term has been used on our broadcasts: "We're talking about silver bullets. It's more like a silver bullet. That's the silver bullet. There's no silver bullet. Indeed, no silver bullet!"

So many folks have used that term on past programs, we started wondering what it really means. No kemosabe, it did not originate with "The Lone Ranger" leaving silver bullets behind. But apparently in the superstition that it's the only way to kill werewolves or other supernatural beings.

Kate Bernheimer: The traditional story with which I most identify the silver bullet motif is a long, insane tale from the Brothers Grimm called 'The Two Brothers.' It's a story about the evils of greed, and the goodness of brotherly love. Near the end of 'The Two Brothers,' one of the heroes uses three silver buttons as bullets in his gun to bring a witch out of a tree.

How perfect -- they're effective against the evil of greed. So says Kate Bernheimer, who teaches at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, and is the author of a collection of fairy tales. As legend has it, though, we're already too late.

Bernheimer: "There's often only one chance and one silver bullet. I'm afraid there's no more silver bullet for President Obama or the Federal Reserve to employ now.

Ah, so much for happy endings. But happy Friday!

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
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You failed to comment on the real explanation for the meaning of "silver bullet," as it is currently being used: most people who use this term should be saying "magic bullet" instead. They have confused the meanings of these two slang terms.

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