What’s in a name? Quite a lot apparently, as it defines the very meaning given to concepts that we need to represent, interact with and think about the world. Is it fair then, that big industries and companies can determine how words are used, claiming exclusive rights over their usage and even owning them?
That is basically how trademarks work, and while it may sound totally absurd that a company can take exclusive possession of the word “Apple”, that is actually what has happened in our hyper-capitalist societies.
It doesn’t stop at common nouns being pilfered for profit though, as even colours have been hijacked for private business use, including Barbie pink, Cadbury purple and Tiffany blue, each owned by their respective company or product names included in the colour name, and so have sounds, such as the roar of the lion at the beginning of MGM films.
How the world has reached the point where companies can own exclusive rights to words, sounds and colours (in addition to shapes and smells) is surely worthy of more consideration than the apathy that it seems to receive from most of the world’s population who buy the trademarked products, perhaps without realising they are supporting private ownership of what should be common goods.
Unfortunately, it is not just greedy and selfish corporations who want to take private control of the language we use, as governments are getting in on the act in order to support their domestic industries, as can be seen in the irrational lawmaking that the EU undertakes on behalf of its agricultural producers.
Perhaps in the move to protect the unique agricultural heritage of a region, such as with only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France being allowed to called ‘champagne’, there was something understandable in the push to protect culture. However, in 2017 when the European Court of Justice decreed that any product with ‘butter’, ‘cream’ or ‘milk’ in it must be derived from a mammal’s mammary glands unless talking about ‘almond milk’ or ‘ice cream’, but absolutely not ‘soy milk’, the hijacking of language was taken to a particularly idiotic level.
If that wasn’t enough, they have this year started the process of banning the use of ‘sausage’, ‘steak’ and even ‘burger’ from any products that are not made of meat. Of course, these are really just rather feeble attempts by the meat and dairy industries to attempt to reverse the trend of more and more people foregoing products from their highly polluting and cruel industries, but the fact that governments are supporting them is not a welcome development.
The most ludicrous aspect of this farce is pithily pointed out by the Economist in their satirical article Europe Heroically Defends Itself Against Veggie Burgers. In reality, there are countless examples of how terms and names, labels and words have been, and continue to be, used or abused to describe things they were not originally meant for.
The most flagrant (and amusing) violation of this supposed sacred use of words only for their original meaning, is with the term ‘meat’ itself, which was originally used to describe anything edible, as in the Old English ‘mete’ meaning ‘food’. Jokes aside though, if we let industries and companies take private ownership of our language, we will end up being talking advertisements for these profiteering pigs.