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What is the story behind the word mark as a synonym for version in products, such as Canon 5D Mark III or Aston Martin DB Mark III?

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Responses to this question may provide the answer you need. If it doesn't, edit your question to incorporate a reference to it, and indicate just what it leaves you asking. –  StoneyB Sep 23 '12 at 21:36
@StoneyB My take on the question is: Your linked question talks exclusively about marque meaning brand/maker, and not about mark meaning version of a particular product. Even if marque is the same as mark, which frankly is doubtful (at least in BrE), how did mark come to mean "version"? Etymonline doesn't give much away there. –  Andrew Leach Sep 24 '12 at 7:28
@AndrewLeach The British use of the French marque spelling to mean a brand or model, especially of a motor vehicle, is indeed the same as mark. The one that is unclear is marque as used in letters of marque and reprisal. The OED’s etymological entry for mark is extensive. Historically, it has sometimes been spelled marque with no change in meaning, although there are numerous meanings. Note also that the Romanic uses of marque, marca are borrowings from Germanic into them, and so marque is the round-trip spelling back into English again. –  tchrist Sep 24 '12 at 11:48
The OED may say "a designation of the stage of development in design and construction of a manufactured product," but it's not obvious how "mark" came to be used for that. And in BrE marque is distinctly different from mark. Marque means a manufacturing brand; mark means a version of a particular product from that brand. Even if they both basically mean "version" -- a car from one marque is different from a car from another -- how did mark come to mean version? I suppose remark might possibly be relevant. –  Andrew Leach Sep 24 '12 at 11:57
I'm with Andrew Leach here: I think the OP refers to the usage as in Mark 48 torpedo or Mark 84 bomb rather than as in Aston Martin DB Mark III. They are distinct meanings, are they not? –  Alexander Kosubek Sep 24 '12 at 13:03
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1 Answer

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This is the sense of mark that means a particular brand of something. The OED notes that this is often followed by a numeral:

A particular ‘brand’, make, quality, or size of an article. Also, freq. followed by a numeral, a designation of the stage of development in design and construction of a manufactured product or piece of equipment, as a weapon, an aeroplane, etc.

Two 19th century citations of this use are:

  • 1888 Treat. Mil. Small Arms & Ammunition 52 ― Enfield Revolver Pistol, Mark II.
  • 1899 Kynoch Jrnl. Oct.–Nov. 12/1 ― Despite the unfortunate failures at Edinburgh and Bisley of the bullet known as Mark ɪᴠ.

Two prior citations that show the evolution of mark to mean make/quality/size are:

  • 1669 Sturmy Mariner’s Mag. v. xii. 68 ― In regard of the several differences of the length and marks, or Diameter of her Base and Muzzle-ring, no certain proportion can be generally assigned.
  • 1758 Monthly Rev. 204 ― The prices of Grinding··and Diamond-cutting the several Marks or Sizes [of plate-glass].

The OED notes that when used with the postfix numeric, mark is sometimes abbreviated as Mk.

In the specific case of marque for motor vehicles, this was borrowed back from the French spelling during the 20th century. Here are the OED’s citations for those, with italics in the original. The most important is the 1958 quote:

  • 1956 Road & Track Oct. 5 (Advt.), ― The marque of Mercedes-Benz.
  • 1956 Road & Track 14 ― The firm and marque has not actively participated in competition.
  • 1958 N. & Q. Feb. 86/1 ― ‘Marque’ is surely a recent borrowing from the French language where it is in general use to denote a particular type of variety of a product, e.g. Frigidaire, Hoover, etc··. The channel whereby the word has passed from French to English is doubtless international motor-racing.

Additionally, the word mark was sometimes spelled marque during the 1600s, with no change in meaning. However, its use in “letters of marque and reprisal” may — or may not — represent something else. The OED says of this one:

Etymology: a. Fr. marque (OFr. also merke), ad. Pr. marca, vbl. sb. f. marcar (med.L. marcāre) to seize as a pledge. It is uncertain whether this is connected with mark sb.1

The word mark itself has a long history, having its English origins in OE. mearc and Anglian merc, where it meant boundary, landmark, sign. The OED points out how French adopted it from Germanic languages, and so the British marque is just a reborrowing back into English of a word lent to French.

The Teut. word and its derivative vb. were early adopted into Romanic; the sb. appears as OFr. merc, marc masc., Fr. marque fem., mark, sign, etc., marche (ONFr. marque) boundary (see march sb.3), Pr., Sp., Pg., Ital. marca mark, sign, boundary. Some of the senses developed in Fr. marque have coloured the application of the Eng. word.

The last sentence quoted above suggests that the English use of marque has been influenced by the French. The OED suspects that the original meaning was boundary, connecting the hypothetical Old Teutonic ∗markâ with the Latin margo meaning margin.

The word appears in various guises in all kinds of places, from the Welsh marches to the old British kingdom of Mercia, all the way to various Iberian-derived comarcas.

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Citations are all very well, but all they show is how a word is used. They don't explain how it came to be used. We know mark is used for version, and while the 1669/1758 citations are interesting, they don't explain how the word evolved from "mark/sign/boundary" into "version". It seems a rather tenuous link, but that link is what the question is asking about. –  Andrew Leach Sep 24 '12 at 13:51
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