Thursday, October 15, 2009


Our language is a wondrous thing. Some words by their very nature evoke positive associations (blossom, sweet, caring, hero, hugable, etc) just as others (festering, bitter, conniving, villain, spiny, and so on) evoke negative ones. What fascinates me is when seemingly neutral words come adopt similar associations through our experience. Politics makes for some fine examples: in the latter half of the 20th century, propaganda convinced Americans that communism (which arguably refers to a political party like any other) would bring disaster, and that anyone adhering to it despised their country. Today, the Right tries its best to tarnish the word "liberal" in people's minds with a variety of narrow-minded accusations. "Different" is just a word for something that is not similar to something else, but in the right context it becomes a catalyst for all the anxiety of not fitting in.

"Corporation" is a fine example of this phenomenon, as I find most sensible individuals associate the word with massive, inhumane, robotic, cold, merciless, unforgiving, ever-expanding, stubborn, bureaucratic, treacherous, manipulative, scheming, labyrinthine, unwieldy, selfish, antagonistic entities bent on tormenting the defenseless individual at every possible opportunity. "Company" is far more neutral in comparison, but if I want to create a distinctly negative impression, "corporation" suits my purpose perfectly. Or, I can just as soon omit any title at all to give the entity a more personal feel. Consider:

Nijiag has big plans for the future.

This fictitious (not to mention hastily assembled) example conveys an optimistic feeling; as if Nijiag were a person we knew well and was trusting us with his or her mission for positive change. The syntax in the sentence is the same as if Nijiag were an individual. Now consider:

The Nijiag Corporation has big plans for the future.

Suddenly, our subject doesn't seem so friendly. The article "the" opening the sentence turns Nijiag into an nonliving thing lacking human characteristics, and "corporation" removes all doubt. Nijiag is not a person, it is an assembly of people and business ventures combined for the purpose of profit. It is mammoth, frightening, and appears to have ambitions of its own. Those upcoming plans suddenly feel a tad more sinister.

This negative use of "corporation" is achieved wonderfully in the Bond film Moonraker (despite its countless other shortcomings) where the villain's business enterprise is constantly referred to as the Drax Corporation. Blade Runner achieves a similar effect with the Tyrell Corporation. I hope that one day I too have the opportunity to use this superbly loaded word in my own writing.


Randall said...

"Company" seems equally nasty to me, but I've been reading a lot about the Cold War lately, which I only though of just now because of your mention of communism.

Still, interesting post, man. Been thinking about individual words a lot lately too.

Mike said...

moonraker isn't flawed, just special

Danicus said...

Company sounds nasty to me too, but tat might be because in a lot of military and spy jargon, "The Company" is a common slang term for the C.I.A.

Ian said...

I admit that "company" can also sound off-putting, but alongside "corporation" it takes on a far friendlier aura. The word itself can also be used in a more positive light:

We're having company for dinner.

Though this too can become intrusive:

I had some unexpected company on my big date.

Sam said...

America is especially sneaky with the lack of "corporation" used in major business' names.
Think of how it feels to buy from Dell, then think of how weird it would feel to buy from The Dell Corporation. One sells decent laptops for a not-too-horrific price and will send a sweaty balding man to your house if you need something simple fixed. The other is a faceless and eerie sounding conglomerate bent on possibly selling you a computer while probably stealing your soul.

Other places that would sound funny with a "the ___ corporation" title:
The Snapple Corporation
The Lego Corporation
The Pepsi Corporation
and so on.

Danicus said...

Ahh, i see. you're using different definitions of the word company. Yes, in that context it's a little better.