Words-worth: Conglomerate

In these difficult days, conglomerates are unfashionable.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

When everyone is concentrating on their core businesses, trying to hold together a bundle of different enterprises seems reckless. The word's origins are in 19th-century geology: a conglomerate is a composite rock made from rounded fragments of stone and held together by a kind of cement. It doesn't sound strong, and usually it's not: conglomerate rocks are used in building, but decoratively, not structurally. Its source is the Latin verb conglomerare, from the noun glomus, meaning ball. In English, from the 16th century, to conglomerate was to roll something into a round shape. In business, the noun conglomerate appeared first in 1967 in an Economist article about the US firm Textron, which had bundled together 28 divisions selling 'everything from chickens to rocket engines'. Textron has since concentrated its focus, and describes itself as a 'multi-industry company', 'conglomerate' having acquired a pejorative note. But it keeps on rolling along.

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