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What are commodities? And what are they called in other languages? In this article in the Spanish newspaper el País they call them mercancías básicas, which would be basic tradable goods translated back. It is not blatantly wrong, but the writer of the article is obviously aware of the fact that this translation is lacking something, I guess that is the reason why he puts the original English word commodities in italics and in brackets. The readers seem to notice the problem too, judging by the comments published so far, but they are rather more annoyed by the use of the English term, albeit in brackets, than by their lack of understandig of it. They also complain that many English expressions, particularly „at the end of the day“, are translated literally and way too often as al final del día. I would agree with the second criticism, but the first, the word commodities itself, is in my opinion more interesting than what the readers comment. Because it shows a level of abstraction that is not used in other laguages I know.

Of the different definitions given by my faithful Merrim-Webster´s I think the fourth is the most interesting:

A good or service whose wide availability tipically leads to smaller profit margins and dimminishes the inportance of factors (as brand name) other than price

This use goes back to the 15th century, which is quite a long time ago. But English being such a flexible language it took that noun and made a verb out of it, so we got commoditization, which therefore gets defined as a transitive verb with the meaning:

1: commodify; specifically: to render (a good or service) widely available and interchangeable with one provided by another company
2: to affect (as a brand or a market) by commoditizing goods or services,

which was first used in 1984. Something must have changed in the economic word during the 80´s that made this word necessary, even if the second definition is quite circular and self referential. So we got an economic environemment where not only things that could be directly traded would be considered commodities, like water, electricity and basic foodstuffs, and then also services like insurance and banking, althoug not directly tradable and therefore more difficult to identify as commodities, and then even some elaborated products like first microchips, then computers and now, if I got it right, even the services the computers provide are considered commodities in the cloud.

The concept of commodity seems to be a useful one to me, espetially when used in the abstract sense. Thus I would like to see the concept grasped in other languages. I do not know how to do it in German or Spanish, perhaps somebody has a good idea, I would be most grateful.

In the meantime I close my post by predicting that the day computers really get AI intelligence will become a commodity. That day will be a truly interesting one and I am not sure whether I want to live to see it or not. It will probably put me out of business.

PS: Until that day the only truly global commodity will not be intelligence, but will remain stupidity and ignorance, in so far as something that is not publicly traded can be considered a commodity. Everybody seems to be happy with the supply of stupidity they got assigned in the lottery of life and nobody wants anymore of it, in this sense stupidity and ignorance are akin to sense of humour and intelligence. It would be nice to get rid of excess stupidity by selling it, but nobody seems to be willing to buy it. I would grant the Nobel Price for Peace to anybody who finds a way to safely dump excess stupidity and ignorance. Perhaps we could do it in the world wide web? Reading some newspapers, fora and comments sections in the web this is being tried already but so far the result seems to be not a reduction, but a multiplication of this undesired commodity. Let´s keep hoping.


Am 18.05.2016 um 09:59 von Sergio
Mi diccionario especializado de la editorial Ariel sugiere, entre otras traducciones, "producto básico", pero ninguna de las propuestas reúne en mi opinión el campo semántico de "commodity".

A menudo se utiliza "materia prima" se queda muy corto y cubre solo una parte. El cobre es una materia prima, pero no lo es el café, pero ambos son commodities.
Am 18.05.2016 um 10:01 von Jordi
Gracias por tu aportación, Sergio. Es justo lo que digo. La electricidad dicen que es una \"commodity\", hasta los ordenadores lo son, como producto abstracto, pero no son una \"materia prima\" ni un \"producto básico\". Al menos, a mí no me lo parecen

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