Consumer: What's in a Word

Michelle Singletary argues that the word itself is partially to blame.

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Is the very use of the word "consumer" to describe people turning us all into materialistic shopaholics?

That's the argument of Michelle Singletary, columnist at the Washington Post.

She writes:

We use the word consumer when referring to ourselves even when the topic isn't about consuming. But look at the word consume. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, consume means "to do away with completely; destroy, to spend wastefully; squander."

And yet we are no longer citizens but consumers. This recession has proved that things have to change, and still the message from many of our leaders continues to be that consumerism -- consumers -- will save the day. To be a consumer is equivalent to being a good American.

When I use the word consumer, I use it to capture the fact that we, like it or not, are the end-users of a massive economic system. But that doesn't make us necessarily wasteful, or mean that our lives revolve around consumption.

Here's the definition of "consumer" from Webster's New World Dictionary: "a person who buys goods and services for personal needs and not for resale."

By that definition, we're all consumers, and not necessarily bad ones.