“LaFleur Legal Marketing” – An Etymological History
Written by LaFleur
Every business has a history; you can read a bit more about the episodic history of LaFleur Legal Marketing, as an agency, here. But as marketing and content-creation experts, we also know how important words themselves can be. That’s why we spent some quality time investigating the history of the words that make up our moniker.
“Marketing,” our primary focus here at LLM, is a word with an unclear history; no one is sure exactly how or when the word made its way into the English language. What linguists are fairly sure of is that the word is derived from the Latin “mercatus,” which was a market or fair. We like to keep both of those original meanings in mind as we work by offering the kinds of marketing deliverables that both engage and delight readers and that you’ll want to invest in.
The curious thing about the word “marketing” is that its root word – “market” – did not take a traditional path into the English language. Most non-ecclesiastical words of Latin origin came into English via French in the Middle Ages. An explosion of nearly 10,000 words from French entered the English language between the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the 16th century. Your guess at a date in the 1400s or 1500s as the end of the Middle English period is as good as anyone’s; 1476 is convenient since it is the year that William Caxton started operating his printing press in London, but some of the first works he printed were Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur – both of which were unquestionably written in Middle English. Of course, just a little over 100 years later Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare arrive on the literary scene, and their poems and plays are unquestionably written in Early Modern English.
Regardless of what date is used, “market” did not come into English during that unprecedented influx of French vocabulary – which is somewhat ironic since markets were likely a primary vehicle for linguistic diversification at the time. Instead, the word came into English even earlier, most likely through another Germanic language that picked it up from Latin several centuries before the Vikings started (re)invading England in the 8th century.
In any case, the earliest recorded use of the word “market” in English is from 963 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a book that was initially created during the reign of Alfred the Great (r. 871-899) and that was subsequently distributed, copied, and updated in several different monasteries throughout England – in one case up to 1154, long after the Norman Conquest made French the standard language for all official documents. The phrase where the word was first recorded was “Ic wille þæt markete beo in þe selue tun,” which roughly translates to (and I’m admittedly a little rusty on my Old English) “I want to be at that market in the good town.” Don’t we all?
While speculating about the history of the word “marketing” is like trying to solve the Sunday crossword, determining the etymology of the word “legal” is much more straightforward. The word came into English, not surprisingly, from Latin through French sometime during the tail end of the Middle Ages at the same time many other French words entered the English vernacular. In the original Latin, the term “legalis” was derived from the term “lex,” which meant “law.” It should come as no surprise, then, that “legal” now refers to things that pertain to law. Interestingly enough, in English, some words change as they are adopted (like “lex” into “law” or “legalis” into “legal”), but others remain the same (like “kindergarten” from German or “karaoke” from Japanese). We still have a few original Latin words floating around in our current lexicon, one of them being “lex talionis” (“the law of the talon”), which refers to any type of “eye for an eye” system of punishment.
Interestingly enough, the word “legal” and the word “loyal” both arrived into English via French and both share the same “lex” root. Where “legal” has always been an adjective used to describe things that pertain to law, “loyal” (at least the original sense) was an adjective used to describe individuals who could be trusted to fulfill their obligations under the law. Understanding how the more modern sense of “loyal” (i.e. unwavering support) developed only requires a small intuitive leap.
In the spirit of saving the best for last, “LaFleur” definitely has the most interesting history. LaFleur is the last name of our company’s president, Chip LaFleur, and “LaFleur” itself is French for “the flower.” It was a popular surname for servants and soldiers in feudal France. The seemingly paradoxical association between soldiers and flowers may be a result of the similarities between the fleur de lys symbol and the point of a spear, though that’s mostly conjecture. “Fleur” came into English – you guessed it – during the Middle English period and ultimately became the word “flower.” Of course, English already had a Germanic word for “flower”: “blossom.” The two words share a surprising number of similar meanings. Obviously, a decorative plant structure could be called either a flower or a blossom (both nouns for the same thing), but when something comes to fruition, it could also be said to have blossomed or flowered (both verbs for the same action). The similarities between these two words in English doesn’t just end at their denotations, though.
To understand the relationship between these two words, we have to go back a bit further. Before “fleur” was “fleur,” it was “flor” in Old French. Before that, it was “florem” in Latin – a word that was created from the name for the goddess of flowers, spring, and youth: Flora. “Flora” is yet another word that can refer to flowers and that made its way directly into English. That English has a plethora of words with nearly identical meanings is nothing new; English is a word hoarding machine with what is undeniably the largest vocabulary of any language on the planet. What is surprising is that English has a pile of words that all mean nearly the same thing and that are all derived from the same root long before Latin was spoken or written.
One of the earliest known languages isn’t spoken anymore and doesn’t exist in any ancient writings; instead, it has been reconstructed based on the work of linguists over the last couple centuries. That language is known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and is hypothesized to have been spoken sometime before the advent of writing. Represented phonetically, the PIE word *bhel- meant “to grow, spread, swell, inflate.” Ultimately, two different groups of people took that original word along with them as they migrated, and it changed among those peoples much like American English and British English have diverged since the settlement of Jamestown since 1607 – except instead of changing over a few centuries of constant contact, the languages of those two migrating groups changed over several millennia of near-isolation from each other.
*bhel- ultimately became “blostma” among Germanic peoples and became “flora” among the later speakers of Latin (and “fleur” among the eventual speakers of French). It also became a great many other words, some of which also meant “flower” (like “bloom,” for example). All of these words and meanings have taken divergent paths and been collected in Modern English. And whether you knew it or not, the last time you gave “flowers” to someone, you were speaking the great-great-great grandchild of a word you’ve probably never heard of from a place you’ve probably never been.
At LaFleur Legal Marketing, we certainly do things in the spirit of enjoyment while also offering a distinct competitive edge – the history of the word “market” compels us to. We specialize in legal marketing – hence the name of our agency and the pool of clients we work most closely with. A deep sense of loyalty has developed not only among our team, but also between our agency and our clients.
Perhaps most importantly, though, we have an understanding of and appreciation for the big picture in everything we do. We know the 6,000-year etymological history behind the individual words in the name of our company. We’re able to optimize and leverage all the primary components of a comprehensive marketing strategy for your firm. And we have a willingness to step back and re-evaluate any plan or approach that isn’t yielding expected results. We are the marketing partner you need to promote your brand and improve your bottom line. Call 888-222-1512 today to learn more about what we can do for you.