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Traders look at screens during a government bond auction on a trading floor in Madrid on Thursday. Spain sold €2.07-billion in government bonds in an auction that showed it still has access to markets, although its borrowing costs rose on worries about its banking sector and fiscal problems.ANDREA COMAS/Reuters

Corporate success is usually gauged by a variety of measures.

Stock market price. Earnings. Market capitalization. Analysts forecasts. Dividends.

But when a stock market darling turns into a howling dog, there's another way corporate health can be assessed: The adjectives used to describe the company.

Since the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. gold-mining sham was exposed in 1997, closer attention is paid to the words reporters and editors use to describe companies, for signs the corporate death spiral has begun.

Now that fraud allegations against Sino-Forest have been levelled by the Ontario Securities Commission in a scandal dubbed "the worst black eye" for Canada's capital markets since Bre-X, it seems appropriate to share a list with investors.

Think about some companies currently in the news – Research In Motion Ltd., Nortel Networks Corp., or perhaps, Livent Inc.

If these adjectives regularly crop up in media coverage, it might be time to assess where your investments rank:

  • Struggling
  • Gaffe-prone
  • Troubled
  • Cash-strapped
  • Beleaguered
  • Embattled
  • Debt-hobbled
  • Bankrupt
  • Defunct
  • Historic