First it was organics and then locally purchased. Both terms began as ways for people to identified foods they purchased for specific -- mostly health and environmental -- reasons. But marketers want to sell and for words to mean what they say they mean. From William Safire:
As the economy began its downturn last year and imports became more expensive, localness challenged cleanliness as being next to godliness in the food dodge. The lust for the local is even competing with organic — food grown or raised without a chemical assist but often transported around the world — and Wal-Mart, having joined the organic parade two years ago, is now touting its purchases of produce grown in-state near its supercenters. Naturally, a name was needed to describe the new anti-exoticism. The word locavore was coined in 2005 on the analogy of carnivore, “flesh eater” (which most dictionaries prefer to “meat eater” because the Latin caro is translated as “flesh,” but nobody eats fattening flesh these days), and herbivore, “plant eater.” The suffix -vorous means “eating, devouring” and spawned the adjective “voracious.” The coiner is Jessica Prentice, who had left a job at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco to write a book about “food and the hunger for connection.” While working on that, she decided to urge people in the Bay Area to eat local food for a month; Olivia Wu, a food writer for The Chronicle, challenged her to come up with a name for what Prentice had been calling the nearby foodshed, I presume on the analogy of “watershed.” She promptly melded the Latin locus, “place,” with vorare, “swallow, devour” and (gulp!) there was locavore, the noun that became the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2007.
This is a perfect example of why Free Markets must be restrained by regulation. If the people, in the form of their elected representative government, didn't have the power to ensure that words mean what they're supposed to mean, then we all end up dying from drinking purified water. Corporations have no interest in protecting consumers beyond that level where they are protecting themselves from financial loses due to litigation. The dictionary is not a wiki. Jeff Hess: Have Coffee Will Write.


  1. UncleBob says:

    “Corporations have no interest in protecting consumers beyond that level where they are protecting themselves from financial loses due to litigation.”

    If the legal system wasn’t such a disaster, this wouldn’t be a problem. Right now, it’s so easy to skirt the law and skirt the system if you get caught. All three branches of the government need reform.

  2. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Bob,

    How would you fix the legal system so that it preserves the two cornerstones of English Common Law: we are innocent until proven guilty; and we are all equal before the law?



  3. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Schaden,

    Yes. Sort of an Orwellian creation where interested parties could redefine War as Peace, Freedom as Slavery and Ignorance as Strength.



  4. UncleBob says:

    Just because I can see something is horribly broken, it doesn’t mean I have the slightest clue how to fix it. 😉

    We really, really, really need to go to a loser-pays system. Too many stupid lawsuits are tying up the courts from individuals playing legal roulette, hoping to hit it big.

    I’m totally unsure how to fix this one, but we need to do something about the jury system. We grab Joe Blow off the street and expect him to understand crazy legal ideas and medical terms that are almost made up (I tease) and who knows what else. “My peers” voted Dubya in twice – am I really supposed to believe they’re smart enough to understand a complicated court case? Court decisions should be based on the law and the Constitution. They shouldn’t be based on “fairness”, they shouldn’t be based on the impression the players leave on the jury, they shouldn’t be based on feelings.

  5. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Bob,

    The system is not broken. It actually works pretty well.

    The problem is that a headline that reads Justice System Works Well isn’t news.

    Sure there will be outriders, but even famous cases like the McDonald’s coffee case become reasonable when you go back and look at the actual court documents.

    Businesses have a stake in making claims against them look silly. When all the facts are in, however, the picture changes. The shift in tobacco cases in the past 20 years is a good example I think.

    As we learned that tobacco companies were not just passively selling a product that they reasonably believed to be benign, but rather actively engaged in an industry-wide campaign to confuse and misdirect consumers while chemically enhancing their product to make it more dangerous and more addictive, the public view shifted.

    Aunt Emma’s death by lung cancer takes on a different aspect when you learn how the tobacco companies stacked the deck against her.

    Tort Reform panic and the bugaboo of malpractice suits shutting down the health system is all smoke and mirrors.

    Just as Walmart convinces us that buying cheap plastic crap from China has been good for us, so to do other corporations seek to paint themselves as our good uncles who only have our best interests at heart.



  6. Bob, the same argument can be extended (as you sort of did) to democracy as a whole. If people are not to be trusted to decide the guilt or innocence of one man, how much more unqualified are they to select the leaders of a nation? You’re probably onto something there.

    even famous cases like the McDonald’s coffee case become reasonable when you go back and look at the actual court documents.

    Jeff, can you give me the Cliff’s Notes version of how it is so in this case? I’m not in the mood to go look, but from what I do know about it, this statement seems outrageous.

  7. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Someone,

    Sure. Lectlaw is a good place to start.



  8. That’s a useful website; why haven’t I been on it before? Needless to say, I still disagree that it “become[s] reasonable.”

  9. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Someone,

    Here’s the reasonable part. If Stella Liebeck had been the first, or even an isolated, case of injury, and McDonald’s had said, oh, we have a hazard here, let’s fix it before others are hurt, then she would have had no case. McDonald’s might have paid her medical bills and a little bit more for her pain and suffering, probably something less than the $20,000 they initially offered.

    But that’s not what happened. McDonald’s was aware of hundreds of such cases, and like General Motors in the infamous case of the Corvair or Ford in the case of the Pinto, chose to ignore the hazard believing that the cost of settling in individual cases was less costly than fixing the problem.

    In McDonald’s case, it believed, perhaps rightly, that the hotness of its coffee was an important selling point and that to cool the coffee down would mean millions of lost sales each year.

    When you ignore a hazard that become depraved indifference and that will cost you when a jury gets a hold of the case.



  10. And anyone with a brain knows that fresh coffee can burn you (to what extent, I don’t care) and you probably shouldn’t open the cup in the car. I am not as forgiving of consumer negligence as you seem to be.

  11. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Someone,

    Try this at home.

    Make a pot of coffee and stick a thermometer in it and record the temperature.

    Pour yourself a cup of the coffee and then record its temperature.

    Finally, go to a McDonald’s and order a small coffee to go and no more than 30 seconds after you get the coffee, record its temperature.

    Let us know what you find.



  12. I’m not much of a coffee man…

    To me it’s the same logic as suing a business because you cut your finger off with a saw you bought there. They had reasonable cause to believe you would use it and that it could cut your finger off (say there had been similar incidents over the years), so why isn’t it their fault?

    Moreover, perhaps someone should sue McDonald’s consultant who advised them to hold the coffee at that temperature, or the people who made the sweat pants too absorbent (someone had to know that they would hold hot liquids against the skin). That’s a big problem with our legal system – it allows people to get rich off of their own negligence.

    By the way, in some states, McDonald’s would have won this one.

  13. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Someone,

    The saw is a different matter.

    Have you ever used a circular saw? Have you noted the safety guard on the saw? It’s there for a reason.

    McDonald’s knew from hundreds of incidents that it had a problem but judged that paying off individual complaints was cheaper than fixing the problem.

    The suite proved that McDonald’s judgment was wrong.

    Again, take a look at the Corvair and Pinto cases. The analogy is direct and to the point there.



  14. Somehow millions of other McDonald’s coffee customers seemed to avoid the problem. How is that if it’s a hazard the chain should have corrected?

    In all likelihood, would she have suffered this injury had she not tried to open the cup or had waited until she had a safer place to do so? That’s all I need to know.

  15. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Someone,

    Millions did, but hundreds didn’t, that’s the point.

    How many people are to be injured before a unreasonable hazard is corrected?



  16. We practically need instant messenger for this. lol

    I think McDonald’s took reasonable precautions. The coffee could not burn through the cup. The cup had a lid to prevent a spill. She removed the safety device, and did so in a fashion that put herself at increased risk of damaging a significant portion of her body. What about all the hundreds of others?

    I don’t think hundreds failing out of millions is enough to dub it unreasonable. Perhaps hundreds out of thousands or even tens of thousands would be different. It’s not the aggregate number; it’s the percentage. If such a high percentage handled it safely, then I think that it was reasonable for McDonald’s to conclude that it was safe for any given customer. They can never reduce the probability of injury to zero.

  17. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Someone,

    Yes, IM might be helpful, but at least this way I can pretend that I’m getting actual work done.

    This was not a first degree (reddening of the skin) burn nor a second degree (blistering of the skin) burn.

    Remember the severity of the burns here:

    A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting. Liebeck, who also underwent debridement treatments.

    This was not a first degree (reddening of the skin) burn nor a second degree (blistering of the skin) burn.



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