Tuesday 19 January 2010


The iconic British chocolate manufacturer Cadbury fell last night to an £11.7 billion takeover by the US food conglomerate Kraft.
    - Today's Times, first line, front page.

Inky Fool is concerned with words, not right and wrong. Inky Fool as, Auden nearly put it, makes nothing happen. But given that I don't give a damn about Cadbury or Kraft and don't even like chocolate much, I adored the bias worded out in this opening line.

I'm not talking about iconic, although the word is delightfully meaningless. Two thousand things have been iconic in British news in the last month, including a lighthouse in Suffolk, Rotherham United's stadium, and Ken Dodd. Journalists are all, I suppose, iconodules.

Nor was it the healthy, flat-cap wearing, horny-handed-son-of-toilish manufacturing that Cadbury's do. That would have meant nothing had it not been contrasted with the evil, evil, evil conglomerate.

There's something so sinister about the word. Say it aloud. It sounds like a portmanteau of coagulate and clot. Company suggests good company. Corporation implies co-operation, with only a hint of corpse (to which it is related). But conglomerates. Conglomerates buy your soul, melt it down and make it into pigs.

Conglomerate, though, is a technical term. In fact it derives from geology where it means one of those rocks that looks like lots of different pebbles have been stuck in cement. Like this:

Then in 1967 people started to wonder what to call all these strange companies, the product of interspecies mergers, that operated ferry lines, manufactured teapots and sold inflatable underwear all at once.

I assume that it was a geologist who had the bright idea of bringing the word conglomerate out from its rocky obscurity. In this business article of 1968 the writer still felt the need to explain the geological meaning of the term. So that's what a conglomerate is now: it's a company that combines unrelated businesses (including melting down your soul to make pigs).

And here's the funny thing: Kraft is not a conglomerate. Like Cadbury, it only makes food.

Empress Irene, noted iconodule, would no doubt have defended Cadbury, which will now become a corporate corpse.

P.S. There was a period in the 1980s when Kraft was a conglomerate, but all that was spun off years ago.

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