The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the term marketing is a word that is related to advertising, business and commerce. A colleague once said to me that she went to do some marketing. I came to realise that she meant shopping for grocery in the supermarket, only after dwelling further onto the subject. But this is something that is rarely used in such context based on my own personal experience.

My question is: Is the usage of the term marketing in the literal sense still appropriate in the English speaking community?

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    Too Localised. OP's colleague is either not a native speaker, or was using the word whimisically. May 28, 2012 at 4:11
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    This usage seems OK to me. I would not say it that way myself, but I would understand when someone said it. Instead of whimsical maybe it should be thought of as regional.
    – GEdgar
    May 28, 2012 at 14:06
  • She went marketing <- She went to market <- she went to the grocery store (or to different food shops or to a farmer's market). Kinda old-fashioned way of saying it (using 'market' in any fashion.
    – Mitch
    Aug 16, 2012 at 22:21
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    As @GEdgar says I think it's a regional or local survival. I feel that it vanished in England a long time ago to be replaced by 'shopping' but might have lasted longer in rural parts of the US. Also I think that people in some parts of Scotland use "do my messages" (for which English people would always have said "run my errands") to mean "do my shopping" I would be very interesting to know where and from whom you heard "marketing" used this way.
    – BoldBen
    Apr 5, 2021 at 8:53

3 Answers 3


ODO defines marketing to mean...

the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

... which would make her usage of the word incorrect, as she isn't selling anything, but rather purchasing products (or services).

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as...

the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

... which means that the money she is exchanging (something of value) could be going to her "client" (the supermarket). But that's quite a stretch. Based on the spirit of their definition, again, her usage is incorrect.

Merriam-Webster does have a definition that fits her usage...

the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market

... so there are still dictionaries out there that back up her usage. However, even MW goes on to push the definition more toward selling and promoting products, as opposed to purchasing them.

So, it is still "appropriate"? Most likely not, since most reputable sources are allowing that use of the word to go to the wayside.

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    Two more dictionaries that support: American Heritage lists To buy household supplies: We marketed for a special Sunday dinner." Also, Collins meaning #16: to buy or deal in a market. I agree with your conclusion, though; it's an odd use of the word, and should probably be used only in a whimsical context.
    – J.R.
    May 28, 2012 at 4:27

The word "marketing" used in the sense of "visiting a market to purchase goods" was mostly displaced by the word "shopping", in the sense of "visiting a shop to purchase goods", around the time in particular places when open-air markets were replaced by enclosed, privately owned shops. It seems economics and government policies are responsible for the change of meaning. Perhaps the word "marketing" was a bit orphaned when it was drafted by the management profession.

Dictionaries of English include plenty of attestations that the word "marketing" did indeed commonly include visiting a market to purchase, as well as sell, products, and there are attestations that native speakers (only) still use the term that way.

In a related way, "shopping" a product (such as a script or idea) in the sense of seeking to sell or promote it, seems to have subsequently replaced "marketing" that product when the term "marketing" took on its current, more specialized management science meaning.


Google Ngrams for the word "marketing" in American and British English show early transient peaks (16th, 17th and 18th century) in American literature but not in British literature. Given the dates and size of the early peaks these are probably artifacts of some kind.

The more significant and sustained rises in usage (at least in published work) are 20th and 21st century. Interestingly the rise starts around 1900-1910 in the US and about ten years later in Britain. This suggests to me that the modern use started in America and was taken up in Britain. It's difficult to imagine that the 20th century increase in usage was triggered by a sudden adoption of "marketing" to mean "shopping" at that time.

This is speculation but I do wonder whether "marketing" meaning "shopping" was in wider oral use in the some communities in the US than is reflected in published work: I also think it possible that the person or people who introduced the modern term to the business world came from a community where it was widely used.

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