Markets and Merchants

By Mark Nichol - 3 minute read

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Market and attendant words, deriving from the Latin verb mercari, meaning “trade,” are listed and defined in this post.

Market, referring to a place where goods are sold, migrated to English through an ancient Germanic language, and by extension it now also pertains to a geographic region or a demographic targeted for selling of certain goods or services, or an opportunity for selling or a supply of or demand for goods or services. As a verb, the word means “sell” or “make available for sale.” Mart is a synonym as both a noun and a verb, while a supermarket is specifically a large grocery store. Marketplace is a synonym for market in its various meanings, though it may also refer to competition for dominance among various ideas or ideologies.

A marketer is someone involved in promoting or selling a service; the profession is called marketing. Something possessing qualities that make it amenable to being sold, or someone whose qualities will make him or her appealing to employers or the consumer public, is said to be marketable.

Aftermarket refers to the system of providing accessories and parts for a product or to a system for reselling a certain type of products, as well as the general market for stocks.

A farmers’ market is a place where produce and sometimes homemade foods (and even crafts) are sold informally, while a flea market is where people sell goods informally, including used products but often new and sometimes self-produced manufactured products as well; both are usually held outdoors.

The stock market is a system in which trading of securities for investment purposes is conducted.

A black market is an informal network of trade of restricted or prohibited goods; occasionally, the phrase may refer to an actual location where such goods are sold. As black-market, the term is a verb referring to buying or selling in the black market. A seller is called a black marketer or black marketeer, and the action is black marketeering.

The adjective upmarket means “appealing to the wealthy” or “of high quality” (it also serves as an adverb); down-market pertains to low-income consumers or low quality.

Mercer, a British English term for a dealer in fine fabrics, also survives as a surname. Mercenary, meaning “one who serves for wages,” usually refers to a soldier-of-fortune, but as an adjective, in addition to referring to one who enlists in a foreign army or fights for a private client, means “greedy” or “venal.”

A merchant is a shopkeeper or trader, although occasionally the word serves as slang referring to someone with a particular talent, such as in the phrase “speed merchant” for a fast sprinter. It also is an adjective pertaining to trading or used as in the phrase “merchant marine,” which denotes, collectively, the commercial ships of a particular nation or the crew members of these ships. (Merchantman is an obsolete synonym for merchant; it was also used during the Age of Sail to refer to a ship carrying goods for trade.) The adjective mercantile, meanwhile, means “pertaining to trading,” while merchandise refers to goods that are sold (while a merchandiser is someone who sells goods), and the the word also serves as a verb meaning “buy and sell” or “promote.” The act or practice of selling goods is merchandising.

Commerce is the large-scale buying and selling, generally involving transportation over long distances (though the word also has rarer senses of “exchange of ideas and opinions” or “sexual intercourse”). The adjective is commercial, which also functions as a noun to denote an advertisement using moving images, sound, or both. Online buying and selling is called e-commerce, where the e is an abbreviation for electronic, as in email (sometimes styled e-mail).

One word unexpectedly related to mercari is mercy, from the idea of a price paid. Mercy is compassion or leniency, a fortunate occurrence, or a divine blessing. (The term is also sometimes uttered as an oath of pleasure of surprise, as in “Oh, mercy me!” though it is old-fashioned.) To be merciful is to exhibit compassion or forbearance, and the adverbial form is mercifully; mercy itself occasionally serves as an adjective, as in the phrase “mercy killing,” referring to killing a person or an animal to end suffering.

Another is Mercury, the name of the fleet-footed Roman messenger god, who was also the god of commerce—and travel and, ironically, theft—and that of the planet named for him. The name of the element mercury, which in its liquid form moves very quickly, was also inspired by the swift Roman deity.

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3 Responses to “Markets and Merchants”

  • Petra

    Thank you for this fairly comprehensive treatment. I have a couple of comments.

    Any Latin scholar would immediately raise an eyebrow at this: “…deriving from the Latin verb mercari, meaning “trade,”… ”
    That is a decidedly un-Latin form. The infinitive (presumably what is intended here) would be mercare, the stem being merc(a) and the inflection -are indicating infinitive mood. The only suffix in Latin with an -ari form would be fairly obscure masculine-dative and feminine-ablative inflections of certain 3rd declension nouns.

    Concerning “marketer”, the term “marketeer” is the commoner form (certainly in the BE sphere of UK, India, Oz, etc.) and the only form (in those places) in certain collocations and compounds, such as free-marketeer, black-marketeer, to such an extent that marketer would sound peculiar there, to say the least.

    “Merchant marine” does not collocate. The natural collocations would be “merchant navy” and “mercantile marine” (again speaking about the BE/Commonwealth English sphere).

    Mart as a verb is certainly something I have never encountered in standard Englishes (American and British). How would it be used? Their company is effective at marting their goods?

    It would be interesting to hear how the mark/merc stem made its way from Latin to (proto)Germanic. I am in fact often puzzled by this matter of early connections between germanic and romance families, given the absence of substantial interaction between Germanic and Roman regions before the fall of Rome.

  • venqax

    @Petra: Maybe this is an SAE vs. British issue. Marketer is the word commonly used in American English for someone whose job it is to market something. In that sense, market is usually a fancy verb meaning “sell.” A telemarketer, in particular, is the uniquely annoying variety who telemarket via the telephone. Freemarketeer is also used, meaning someone who supports the concept of free markets. Similarly, the United States Merchant Marine is the official name for the portion of the US commercial shipping fleet that comes under the auspices of the authority of the same name. The US Merchant Marine Academy is in King’s Point, New York (I’m filling in for DAW.) As for the, I’s vs. E’s ‘ceptin’ in the cases of “… fairly obscure masculine-dative and feminine-ablative inflections of certain 3rd declension [Latin] nouns,” my eyebrow most certainly rises, though I have absolutely no idea why; maybe just fear.

  • April

    Can we get a “like” button? Venqax is a funny, funny person.

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