"product" as non-manufactured

Bob Fitzke fitzke at VOYAGER.NET
Fri Feb 11 22:22:13 UTC 2000

Tangentially, there is business use of the word "product" that I find curious.
I  frequently hear representatives speak of the output of their company as
"product", e.g., an automotive exec. refers to his company having produced "X
units of product" this quarter. It's as if the term has become generic for
anything produced and the speaker is almost dissasociating him/herself from the
specific item. My reaction is always, "Are these people ashamed of building
cars (valves, bags of fertilizer, etc.)?


"James E. Clapp" wrote:

> Roly Sussex asked:
> >
> > Does anyone have a date, place or other source for when "product"
> > grew out of its "manufactured physical object" meaning and started
> > to be used for financial plans, share portfolio strategies,
> > mortgages, health plans and so on? It sounds like management/
> > sales-speak.
> Fred Shapiro answered:
> >
> > I don't think your premise, that "manufactured physical object" is the
> > original meaning of "product," is correct.  The original meaning referred
> > to the result of arithmetical multiplication, and other non-manufacturing
> > meanings go back to at least as early as the 17th century.
> It must be unusual for a term to originate in mathematics and branch out
> like this one, and it is interesting to see how recent the use of "product"
> in the commercial sense of "the fruits of one's labor offered for sale"
> appears to be (nineteenth century?).
> But of course Roly's premise wasn't that the commercial sense was the
> earliest sense of the word, but merely that the recently fashionable use of
> the word in business circles to refer to a service offered (especially a
> financial service) is an outgrowth of the original commercial sense of "a
> thing produced (by manufacture or farm labor) and offered for sale."  And
> surely that is correct.
> Benjamin Barrett answered:
> >
> > Although I agree it sounds like business-speak, I would think this comes
> > from law not sales. Black's includes a reference but it isn't dated.
> That would really surprise me.  When I was practicing law in the
> mid-eighties I encountered the term (in the sense Roly is asking about)
> only in corporate business plans and the like:  "We will grow domestic
> revenues by rolling out a new reverse debenture product and grow the
> foreign subsidiary through strategic targeting of the Cayman Islands option
> straddle product."
> No doubt lawyers by now have caught this usage from their clients and
> describe their legal services as "products," but certainly the traditional
> usage in law was the same as elsewhere.  "Products liability," for
> example, refers to the liability of manufacturers and sellers of unsafe
> products like soft drinks with broken glass and automobiles with gas tanks
> that explode.
> Similarly, in U.S. trademark law "products" is identified with "goods" as
> distinguished from "services."  Title 15 of the United States Code, section
> 1127, defines "trademark" as a word or other device "used by a person...to
> identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique *product*,
> from those manufactured or sold by others"--as distinguished from "service
> mark," defined as a device used "to identify and distinguish the services
> of one person, including a unique *service*, from the services of others."
> For example, "Citibank" is a registered service mark for financial
> services.
> And until 1988, "certification mark" was defined as "a mark used upon or in
> connection with...*products or services*...to certify regional or other
> origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy or other
> characteristics of *such goods or services* or that the work or labor on
> the *goods or services* was performed by members of a union or other
> organization."  (In the course of some 1988 revisions the word "goods" was
> substituted for "products" in that definition.)
> My guess is that trademark laws originally applied only to products (i.e.
> goods), and that the law was later extended to extend protection to marks
> associated with services, which were therefore called "service marks."  In
> any case, the distinction between "product" (physical item in commerce) and
> "service" appears to be very firmly ingrained in law.
> The latest Black's (7th ed.) is in accord, defining "product" as follows:
>        Something that is distributed commercially for use
>        or consumption and that is usu. (1) tangible personal
>        property, (2) the result of fabrication or processing,
>        and (3) an item that has passed through a chain of
>        commercial distribution before ultimate use or consumption.
> If a previous Black's said something else, Garner must have taken it out.
> James E. Clapp

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