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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


       The word commodity originated as the noun form of the obsolete adjective commode1. Commode comes from the Middle French word commodité, which developed from the Latin word commoditātem, meaning fitness and convenience2.  As the usage of commodity develops, it does not stray far from the initial concept of convenience and other concepts that revolve around convenience, such as disposability and personal benefit. The earliest appearance of the word dates back to approximately 1400, in which the word is used to refer to an object that was either useful, beneficial or both1. However, prior to the mid 16th century, commodity was most commonly used to describe the quality or degree of convenience, as seen in in W. Lambarde’s Perambulation: “Sent… to espie the commoditie of the hauens.”3 This form of commodity was most often used when making qualitative observations of a process. Specifically in the field of commerce, commodity refers to products and goods for trade and this usage has been around as early as 14363. Presently in commerce, manufacturers and other people of the market use the term to refer to raw materials.  Commodity then evolves to a word that refers to objects under ownership. However, this use of commodity differs from that of possessions because of commodity’s association with commerce and convenience. To expand, commodity, unlike possessions, is used more for property that carries marketable and material value rather than something that an owner may be emotionally attached to.  Like all things convenient, this use of commodity has an implied disposability when compared with possessions. Hence, commodity is more commonly used amongst business owners who own and deal with property that they have no emotional attachment no rather than people who simply own things. Commodity may also be used directly to refer to profit or yield3.  However, as the use of goods for currency diminished, the profit definition of commodity also dwindled until it eventually became obsolete. In addition, commodity also evolved to mean a convenient joining of events or an opportunity as seen William Lithgow’s Total Discourse Travel: “ Finding the Commodity of an English Ship… we hoised sayl”3.  For a brief period between the late 16th century and mid 17th century, the public adopted Shakespeare’s use of commodity to mean a lot or a set of in Henry IV3. Following Karl Marx’s critique of economy, commodity has become a name for things that are treated like marketable goods even though they are things that cannot actually be bought and sold. This new usage of word is commonly used in other situations in which an economic system, typically capitalism, is being criticized. At present, the commodity carries a negative connotation as something from its use in criticism.
1.     "commodity.". Online Etymology Dictionary. 2012. Douglas Harper.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=commodity&allowed_in_frame=0 (accessed November 21, 2012).
2.     "commode, adj.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://oed.com/view/Entry/37187?rskey=1S7CsQ&result=1#eid (accessed November 21, 2012).
3.     "commodity, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://oed.com/view/Entry/37205?redirectedFrom=commodity#eid (accessed November 21, 2012).

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