Words-worth: Loyalty

Loyalty is an important concept for businesses trying to keep their customers. Where did the word come from?

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The word 'loyal' came into English from French in Tudor times, replacing an earlier word, 'leal'. Both have their root in lex, meaning 'law', the Latin word that 'legal' derives from. In feudal times, to be loyal was to comply with your legal obligations to your lord and your sovereign. By the early 17th century, it had a more general sense: wives, lovers and domestic animals could be loyal, meaning faithful. Schemes to encourage customer loyalty date from the 18th century. There have been tokens, trading stamps, coupons, gifts and collectable items such as cigarette cards. In Britain, 'loyalty cards', giving customers discounts or other rewards, began with the Homebase Spend And Save Card in 1982, although they don't seem to have been called that until later in the decade. Consumers seem to like loyalty cards: so much so, they often have one for each supermarket they visit. Not so loyal after all.

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