Commodity OED (415)

commodity, n.

Etymology: < French commodité (15th cent. in Littré), < Latin commoditāt-em due measure, fitness, convenience, complaisance, < commodus : see commode adj. The concrete senses appear to have arisen in the modern languages.


†c. Advantage, benefit, profit, interest: often in the sense of private or selfish interest. Obs.

a1566   R. Edwards Damon & Pithias (1571) sig. Civv,   I wyll vse his friendship to myne owne commodytie.

1621   R. Burton Anat. Melancholy i. ii. iii. xv. 183   Commodity is the steer of all their actions.

1655   T. Fuller Church-hist. Brit. iv. 136   His atchievements in France, were more for the credit, then commodity..of England.

1679   W. Penn Addr. Protestants ii. sig. X,   Those kind of men, do regard nothing but their own Commodity.

1836   R. W. Emerson Commodity in Nature in Wks. (1906) II. 143   Under the general name of commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature.

†d. concr. Profit, gain.

1577   E. Hellowes tr. A. de Guevara Chron. 91   If he displaced any person from his commoditie, he did not forget otherwise to recompence him.

1630   tr. G. Botero Relations Famous Kingdomes World (rev. ed.) 236   These Indies..yeeld an exceeding commodity to this king.


3. (with a and pl.) A convenience, advantage, benefit, interest. Obs. or arch.

1526   W. Bonde Pylgrimage of Perfection ii. sig. Gi,   Other commoditees folowyng of the same.

1580   E. Grindal Let. in T. Fuller Church-hist. Brit. (1655) ix. 126   The reading of Homilies hath his commodities.

1612   (title)    An Old Thrift newly revived, wherein is declared..the commodities and discommodities of inclosing decayed Forrests.

1670   R. Baxter Cure Church-div. 152   Hypocrites, who will do anything in compliance with their own commodities.

1823   C. Lamb Oxf. in Vacation in Elia 16   The many commodities incidental to the life of a public office.


†4. Convenient juncture of events; opportunity, occasion. Obs.

1545   S. Gardiner Let. 23 Apr. in Abp. M. Parker Corr. (1853) (modernized text) 22   Having commodity to send this the University.

1551   in J. Strype Eccl. Mem. (1721) II. ii. i. 254   After dinner taking commodity to declare their letters.

1619   Visct. Doncaster Let. in S. R. Gardiner Lett. Relations Eng. & Germany (1865) 1st Ser. 74   Your Lordship shall hear from me agayne by the first commodity I can make.

1632   W. Lithgow Totall Disc. Trav. (1682) ix. 403   Finding the Commodity of an English Ship..we hoised sayl.

 NOTE the use of ‘commodity’ as, essentially, use-value:

5. concr. A thing of ‘commodity’, a thing of use or advantage to mankind; esp. in pl. useful products, material advantages, elements of wealth.

c1400   Mandeville’s Trav. (Roxb.) xxii. 101   Þe land of Inde es þe maste plentifous land of folk þat es owerwhare, by cause of þe grete commoditez [Fr. bontee] þat it has þerin.

?a1475  (▸?a1425)    tr. R. Higden Polychron. (Harl. 2261) (1865) I. 289 replete with mony commodites, as with pastures, bestes, marchandise, waters, hauenes.

a1513   R. Fabyan New Cronycles Eng. & Fraunce (1516) I. iv. f. vi,   Ye Ryuer of Thamys..with also the Commodities therunto adioynynge.

1553   R. Eden in tr. S. Münster Treat. Newe India Ded. sig. aaiijv,   Euery part, region or commoditie of ye sayd new found landes.

1594   J. Norden Speculum Brit.: Essex (Camden Soc.) 8   Hopps, a commoditie of greate and continuall use.

1647   N. Bacon Hist. Disc. Govt. xlvii. 129   They now thinke a Bishopricke but a naked commodity.

1657   R. Austen Treat. Frvit-trees (ed. 2) Ep. Ded. sig. a3v,   Cattle, Corne, and all Commodities will thrive.

1820   W. Hazlitt Lect. Dramatic Lit. 177   Command over the gross commodities of life.



a. spec. in Comm. A kind of thing produced for use or sale, an article of commerce, an object of trade; in pl. goods, merchandise, wares, produce. Now esp. food or raw materials, as objects of trade.   staple commodity n. leading article of trade.

1436   in T. Wright Polit. Poems & Songs (1859) II. 160   Commodytes..commynge out of Spayne, And marchandy..Bene fygues, raysyns, wyne bastarde, and dates.

1486   Act 3 Hen. VII c. 8   Every Merchant..shall imploy the Money..upon the Commodities of this Land.

a1616   Shakespeare Comedy of Errors (1623) iv. iii. 6   Some tender monie to me..Some offer me Commodities to buy.

1649   Bp. J. Hall Resol. & Decisions i. ii. 17   There is a due price to be set upon every saleable commodity.

1691   J. Locke Money in Wks. (1727) II. 73   Commodities are Moveables, valuable by Money.

1699   R. Bentley Diss. Epist. Phalaris (new ed.) 359   Money was at that time a scarce Commodity in Greece.

1825   J. R. McCulloch Princ. Polit. Econ. iii. vi. 294   Money is itself a commodity, whose value depends on the same circumstances that determine the value of all other commodities.

1878   W. S. Jevons Polit. Econ. 16   A commodity is any portion of wealth.

1934   G. B. Shaw On the Rocks (new ed.) Pref., in Too True to be Good 158   They are free to enter upon a series of quite legitimate but not the less nefarious operations. For example, making a corner in wheat or copper or any other cornerable commodity and forcing up prices so as to make enormous private fortunes for themselves.

1958   R. K. Narayan Guide i. 18   Bullock carts..arrived late in the evening from distant villages, loaded with coconut, rice and other commodities for the market.

1962   Listener 8 Mar. 400/2   Agricultural subsidies, to sustain one kind of production and to foster an arbitrary commodity pattern within it.

1985   Daily Tel. 16 Jan. 19   London commodity markets: rubber..sisal..sugar..soya meal.


b. fig. and transf. Anything that one ‘trades’ or ‘deals’ in.

1608   T. Dekker Belman of London sig. H1,   The Whore, who is called the Commodity.

a1623   W. Pemble Wks. (1635) 53   The maxime of Politicians, that the opinion of virtue is a commodity.

1659   O. Walker Περιαμμα Ἐπιδήμιον ii. §i. 18   The first Commodity a young Tradesman sets to sale is his own Honesty.

1769   ‘Junius’ Stat Nominis Umbra (1772) I. xii. 81   The favour of princes is a perishable commodity.

1863   F. A. Kemble Jrnl. Resid. Georgian Plantation 16   The staple commodity of my letters.



a. A quantity of wares, parcel, ‘lot’. Also fig.

1598   Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 1 i. ii. 83,   I woulde..thou and I knewe where a commodity of good names were to be bought.

1598   Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 1 iv. ii. 18   Such a commodity of warme slaues, as had as lieue heare the Diuell as a drumme.

a1616   Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) iii. i. 43   Now Ioue in his next commodity of hayre, send thee a beard.


†b. spec. in 16–17th c.: A parcel of goods sold on credit by a usurer to a needy person, who immediately raised some cash by re-selling them at a lower price, generally to the usurer himself (see D’Israeli Cur. Lit., Usury).

An accommodation of this kind, designed to evade the usury laws, in which the goods were trumpery, was known as a commodity of brown paper, or the like: see Nares. to take (clap) up a commodity: to obtain such an accommodation.

1590   R. Greene Neuer too Late i. 58   If coyne want, then either to Limbo, or else clap vp a commoditie (if so much credite be left).

1593   T. Nashe Christs Teares 47 a,   A hundred pound not forty pound money.

1608   T. Dekker Lanthorne & Candle-light sig. D4,   Of Ferreting: or the Manner of vndooing Gentlemen by taking vp of commodities.

a1616   Shakespeare Measure for Measure (1623) iv. iii. 5   Here’s yong Mr. Rash, hee’s in for a commoditie of browne paper and olde Ginger, nine score and seuenteene pounds, of which hee made fiue Markes readie money.

a1652   R. Brome Madd Couple Well Matcht ii, in Wks. (1873) I. 21   My husband..lent you the last Terme a hundred pound, which hee assign’d to me; and now I have it in Commodity.


C1. General attrib.


commodity agreement  n.

1959   Chambers’s Encycl. III. 787/2   International agreements for the marketing of foodstuffs and industrial raw materials in their unprocessed form are known as commodity agreements.


commodity fetishism  n.

[1887   S. Moore & E. Aveling tr. K. Marx Capital I. i. i. 41 (heading)    The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof.]

1942   P. M. Sweezy Theory of Capitalist Devel. ii. 35   In his doctrine of Commodity Fetishism, Marx was the first to perceive this fact… In commodity production, the basic relation between men ‘assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things’.


commodity market  n.

1962   H. O. Beecheno Introd. Business Stud. xi. 93   In commodity markets..raw materials are sold by those who grew or extracted them, or by merchants.


commodity price  n.

1930   Ann. Reg. 1929 68   Commodity prices fell still further in 1929.


commodity control  n.

1943   P. L. Yates Commodity Control xi. 232   Neither buffer-stock nor quota schemes are sufficiently flawless to enlist our unqualified support as the sole method of commodity control.



commodity dollar  n. U.S. a proposed unit of a form of currency the gold value of which is determined by the current market prices of certain basic commodities; also attrib.

1933   Warren & Pearson in N.Y. Times 23 July viii. 3/3   The Commodity Dollar. The compensated dollar is a proposal to establish by law a currency redeemable in gold.

1933   Times 13 Dec. 14/1   The adoption of the Fisher and Warren ‘commodity dollar’ system.


commodity exchange  n. an organized market for the bulk purchase of certain commodities, a commodity market.

1934   Planning I. xxvi. 12   It is surprising how little..those engaged in industry know about the working of the commodity exchanges.


commodity rate  n. a special rate charged by railways for transportation of particular commodities within a specified area.

1902   Encycl. Brit. XXXII. 135/1   If these special rates are published in the tariff, and are offered to all persons alike,..they are known as commodity rates.

This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1891).

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