Monday, December 2, 2013
For a long time, law, business, and economics professors have used “widgets” in their hypotheticals and examples. A widget is a purely hypothetical manufactured product; there’s no such thing.
The advantage of using widgets instead of real products is that the product and the market may have whatever characteristics the professor attributes to them. The professor doesn’t have to fit the example to any real-world attributes or worry that some student will say, “That’s not how the market for widgets actually works.”
I’m not sure where the term came from, but it’s been used for a long time. The Oxford English Dictionary includes a reference from 1931. "Widget" is commonly used; in a recent Westlaw search, I found 3,569 law review articles using the term.
Now, of course, a widget is a real thing. A widget is software used on cellphones, tablets, and computers. When a professor today says “widget,” students don’t automatically think of a manufactured article; they think of software—a real product with real attributes.
Given that real-world association, I think it’s time to stop using the term “widget” to describe a hypothetical manufactured object. (The alternative, for law professors to actually know enough about real businesses and products that they can tailor their examples to fit reality, is simply unthinkable.)
I propose that we now use the term “bradfords.” I have checked my dictionary and there’s no real product with that name. Given my relative obscurity, it’s highly unlikely students will see the term as anything other than a hypothetical product.
So, from now on, professors’ examples will look something like this:
Acme Corporation produces bradfords. It currently has 1,032 bradfords in its inventory. If it produces 231 bradfords in November and sells 497 bradfords, how many bradfords will it have in its ending inventory?
I hope everyone else will follow my example. It's my one chance at fame.
So long, widgets.