My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at how a very old English word, livery, has changed meanings over the last 700 years. Livery comes from Latin liberare, to liberate, via French livere, and it originally meant an allowance of clothing or food provided by a master to his servants or animals.
My interest is in a much more recent definition of livery: the distinctive look of a vehicle or product. You may have noticed this usage in stories earlier this year about American Airlines’ first new visual identity in 45 years.
Photo from Chicago Tribune: “American Airlines Reveals New Logo, Livery”
Full access to the Visual Thesaurus story is restricted to subscribers (who also get to read all the other great content on the site). Here’s an excerpt:
Meanwhile, in general usage livery’s meaning gradually shifted to “a servant’s uniform,” on the one hand, and “the renting out of horses for a fee,” on the other. (Livery can also be an adjective – “having the flavor or texture of liver” – but that’s beside the point here.) Livery also acquired a metaphorical sense of “outward appearance,” as in the line in a Shakespearean sonnet: “Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now.”
That figurative sense is the one preserved nonfiguratively in American Airlines’ “logo and livery.” But the path from Bard to brand was neither straight nor swift. Unlike many examples of contemporary commercial jargon, it first cropped up in the Old World and took more than a century to cross the Atlantic.