In which cases and situations do we use the word commodity? As far as I understand it, it refers to any kind of product, utility, tool, anything that is being transported or anything being kept as cargo.

Can we use this word to speak about living creatures being transported from one place to another? Can we yse it to speak about medicine and food that's being cargoed?

  • We've loaded the car with different commodities, which include food, medicine and equipment.
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    As any dictionary should tell you, a "commodity" is any article of trade or commerce, especially a product as distinguished from a service. The only connection with cargo/transport is that commodities are usually physical things, so it's likely that they'll need to be moved from wherever they're made to wherever they're sold. If you load your car with "commodities", the implication is these are things you intend to sell - the fact that you need to "take them to market" to sell them is almost incidental. Commented May 9, 2017 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


As FumbleFingers mentions in his comment, a commodity is an object of trade or commerce". The key word here is object -- a commodity is an impersonal, unfeeling item of value to be transported or traded as desired.

Naturally this is fine when talking about equipment or medicine or food. It becomes more nuanced when talking about livestock, and much more complicated when talking about humans. Context is key.

For example, before the mid-1800s, slaves were definitely considered a commodity. In this context it is a dehumanizing term that made it more acceptable (to some) to buy and sell people as if they were grain or lumber or cotton. It is fine even today to describe slaves as "commodities" as long as you properly establish that this is what the people of that time thought, and not what we think today.

You could also describe humans -- specifically, laborers -- as a "commodity" if, for example, you were writing an essay on the evils of capitalism, and you wanted to describe how wealthy factory owners feel (or felt) about their workers -- that they treat them like any other moving machine part, hired and fired as needed, discarded when they were no longer of any use, etc. This would be a deliberately inflammatory use of the word, of course, but it would be your intent to make people angry at the situation.

Again, context. It's not how you (the author) think, but instead the mindset of the people you want to overthrow.

Less extreme is the use of "commodity" for live animals. Most people wouldn't think twice about this, but some might take offense, and feel that live animals deserve better treatment. For this reason the term "livestock" is probably better in most contexts, since it carries the same mercantile meaning without sounding insensitive or dispassionate.

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