The various meanings of cost


If you have studied management accounting, or perhaps read some of my previous posts, you will know the word cost can have many meanings and descriptions. For example, a cost can be fixed, variable, mixed or opportunity.

In this post, I would like to think more about what the word cost can mean outside the world of accounting. The etymology of the word cost is from Latin constare which means to stand firm, stand at a price, which seems to suggest its origins are associated with business transactions. However, today cost can also be used to describe many non- business things. For example, the Alberta oil sands in Canada may have quite a high extraction cost in money terms, but also have and/or will have a large cost in terms of environmental impact.

As I write this post, many of us are working at home due to the global Covid 19 pandemic. This also provides a good example of the many meanings of the word cost. It is perfectly summed up in a phrase I heard on radio “we can count the cost in money now or in more lives lost later”. This comment was in response to plans (or lack of plans) by governments to respond to the pandemic and being more concerned with economic impacts.

These two short examples show cost has meanings which are perhaps commonly understood, and thankfully are becoming more and more a part of business decision-making- which is a good thing of course.

About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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