Are you brand conscious?
Do you wear lots of designer brands?
What’s your favourite brand of shampoo?
Obviously, brand is a very common word we use without much thought. But as a glimpse at the image above will remind you, it also has a second meaning most of us know about, but don’t use too often: the mark (or act of marking) made on livestock with hot metal to identify their owner. And though there might seem to be quite a distance between Tommy Hilfiger and a rancher’s cattle, the different uses of the word share the same basic concept. What is a brand on an animal after all, but an identifying label, just as a Nike logo tells everyone who made your running shoes (young women in sweatshops, possibly).
I’m sure someone out there has already produced some manner of satire playing on the apparently different uses of the word. Interestingly, the last few years have seen more and more people use the word marque (French for brand) in English. It seems to me like a fairly straightforward attempt to distinguish expensive, luxury brands from cheaper alternatives. The word brand after all has no real cachet in itself: a brand can be cheap, expensive, or somewhere in the middle. But a marque! Well, that must be something special. It looks so French, with that -que at the end: it must be expensive and sophisticated.
But all that seems quite silly to me, when I think about the fact that marque sounds identical to mark, therefore (for me) emphasising its origin in the older meaning of branding, i.e. putting your mark on livestock. I get that using French words often carries a sense of sophistication in English, but the word marque isn’t so far removed from mental images of hot metal being applied to cows’ rear ends. And in terms of fashion, using the term doesn’t do much to help the perception that people wearing designer labels are slaves to fashion. You’re literally wearing someone’s mark after all! I’m surprised those of an eschatological frame of mind haven’t tried to identify a link between using the term marque, and the Book of Revelations’ Mark of the Beast. Maybe it’s just not used enough yet, but in a few years we’ll see the publication of evangelical Christian potboilers wherein humanity is led astray by a charismatic yet diabolical fashion designer. I’d read that for a dollar!