Wednesday 14 November 2012

Commodities, Accommodation and Commodes

I'll be talking in Blackwells Oxford this evening and in Heffers Cambridge tomorrow. Now read on...

Whilst sitting upon the commode and contemplating the commodities market, you may be struck by the line from the Four Quartets:

The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie
A dignified and commodious sacrament
Two and two, necessarye coniunction
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde.*

And wonder what all the accommodation is doing. The answer is that once upon a long time ago there was a Latin word commodus, which meant suitable or perhaps convenient. Therefore if you find an object (such as loo roll) that is useful and convenient for you, it is a commodity. Likewise, if you devote yourself to another's convenience (in the non-lavatorial sense) you are being accommodating. Likewise if something is beneficial and apt, it is commodious, as in the sacrament of marriage.

Likewise, what is sometimes called a convenience could also be called a commode. As King Lear puts it:

Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on's are sophisticated! Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare, forked animal as thou art. 

And here's a photo I took the other day:

*As I recall this is all quoting Julius of Norwich, but I can't find it at the moment.


  1. Actually I believe the quote's from Sir Tomas Elyot (1530 I think). An ancestor of TSE apparently. Oh, and it's Julian, not Julius, of Norwich (a she not a he by the way). I know, I know - I should get out more.

    Enjoy Blackwells and Heffers! Love the "inconvenience" sign...

  2. Thank you so much for doing this detective work! I'm very impressed and also pleased 'cause you saved me a lot of time and put it so eloquently. I will get to making a little set of pictures based on this to show my students. Henceforth they will neva spell acommadation wrong again!