Why Amazon is not a river, and other capitalist oddities: On naming, language and reality.
Mention the word “Amazon” these days and chances are people will assume you are talking about online shopping. “My odyssey” likely brings to mind a family minivan. And in that flagship vehicle you will also probably find Bluetooth, but not the Viking unifier of Denmark kind of bluetooth — Harald to his mates — but the short-link radio technology variety that allows us to listen to our favorite podcasts.
There is a pattern here: We have companies that make products or provide services for us, and they often appropriate names of things or ideas from what we can refer to as “reality,” be it geographical places, countries or histories. Words, as linguists have pointed out, are not the things themselves, but point to or stand in for those things. When companies with such names get really big, as big as, say, the Amazon, and when societies become ill-educated, weird things happens to reality. What does it mean that in our search for a way to refer to these companies, these emanations of our capitalist system, we invoke heavyweight entities: works of literature, mighty rivers, ancient warriors?
Can there be any meaning outside of language? This is a central question for philosophers. Language is so central to our understanding of reality — it is the way we communicate that reality. Try thinking without using language. Feeling is different. Feeling is not conveyance of meaning. It is a sense — one that you can only describe using…you guessed it, language. Repurposing names in this way, then, has complex consequences for our appreciation of that reality, and for words themselves. And what, one wonders, happens to our space-time continuum when we take names that are already solidly attached to major concepts or things, and apply them to other things which subsequently become more popular — through relevance or familiarity — than their namesakes?
Near where I live, to give another example of this appropriation of reality, there is a subdivision, at the entrance of which stands a sign announcing “McAdams Farm.” This would suggest, under normal circumstances, that the place was a farm — at least in the way we usually understand the word “farm.” But looking around here for tractors or chickens will be fruitless. Nary a cow will be found, for in this new context, this pod of suburban homes has…