James Gleick on Packaged Goods…Sort Of

It’s a brilliant book that includes Two Wordbooks, a chapter devoted to historical linguistics. This isn’t the intellectual heart of the book (that might be the chapter on memes), but as linguists it floats our boat. Beyond wondering why it never occurred to us that there was a pre-alphabetized world, the chapter seems to bear upon the management of identity in packaged goods marketing.

It tells the tale of Robert Cawdrey, the village priest who published a book in 1606 "for the benefit and helpe of Ladies, Gentlewomen, or any other unskillfull persons... whereby they may more easily understand many hard English wordes which they shall heare or reade in Scriptures, Sermons, or elsewhere…"

While this wasn'’t the first book of English words, it was the first alphabetized dictionary. The concept of organizing any list by notational sequence (a, b, c...) must've occurred to someone before Cawdrey, but this is the first recorded instance that has survived (via a single copy of the book in an Oxford University library). Are we proposing that siggi's alphabetize its yogurt flavors in supermarket chill cases? Maybe we are.

Gleick’s book is about the importance of information to human behavior.

It seems impossible to us that the same eyes and brains wouldn't prefer a better-organized brand to a disorganized one.

Do you market snacks? Detergents? Painkillers?

Is your shelf of subtypes more clearly organized than the other guy’s?

Justin Gilman