There Is No Signatum Without Signum

There is no signatum without signum” – Quote from a reading that Ann was translating to Spanish

Most of you probably read that quote with emphatic agreement, if not, then you’re probably wondering what signum and signatum are, much as we were when Ann asked me what this meant.

After doing a bit of searching, we came to understand this quote as “There are no entities of a category if the category is not named”. Here is a more concrete example: Gouda, Cheddar, and Swiss are all types of cheese. Without the word cheese, or a description there of, the group doesn’t exist. Gouda isn’t cheese, it’s just Gouda.

Categories are concepts that help us organize the world. They help us better understand the world around us by grouping common elements and making general observations about them. Many insights about the world around us stem from the creation of new categories.

This is the basis of personality tests. They create named categories with specific observations about that group. These observations, which would not otherwise exist, can improve your own ability to reflect on how people differ.

Categories can also help us see marketing opportunities better. Here is one example I recently encountered: A marketing student told a VP from Clorox that people his age weren’t interested in preventative cleaning. Instead, they cleaned when it became a problem. Upon hearing this, the VP suggested that the students were not their target market. The student disagreed, and responded by creating two new categories. Some people view things as durable; stuff that will be here for a long time and should be maintained. Slogans like “Clean it so it looks brand new” fit well with this type of person. The other category of people is one who sees things as temporary. If something gets damaged, you throw it away and get a new one. This is the consumable culture. They still might want to clean, they view cleaning as different. By re-framing the categories, he makes it easy to see how Clorox might market to this new category in a different way. Once you have defined the category, you can make enlightening observations about each of those groups that before didn’t have a way to make generalizations.

Categorization matters and this story reminded me of the quote which I find fascinating. Little did I know that the esoteric knowledge would start creating a framework to understand other concepts. I suppose that in this sense, the quote is the signum that I needed to understand the signatum of categories. 🙂






Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: