Antedating of "Capitalist"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Jan 23 05:37:46 UTC 2004

"Capitalist"  actually appears in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations
(1776), in the discussion of Quesnay: "Hence with the aid of the
common observation that where a capitalist appears, labourers soon
spring up, he arrived at the view that the amount of capital in a
country determines the number of 'useful and productive' labourers.
Finally he slipped into his theory of prices and their component
parts the suggestion that as the price of any one commodity is
divided between wages, profits and rent, so the whole produce is
divided between labourers, capitalists, and landlords."

This, like the first (1792) cite in the OED (from Young's _Travels in
France_), is an anglicization of the French 'capitaliste', which
Alain Rey dates from 1755 in the sense "personne qui possede un
capitale." But it's very odd that the OED doesn't have it, since
you'd figure Murray would have taken pains to see that Smith was
combed over very carefully, particularly for this sort of vocabulary.

Geoff Nunberg

>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Antedating of "Capitalist"
>capitalist (OED 1792)
>1791 Alexander Hamilton _Report of the secretary of the Treasury of the
>United States, on the subject of manufactures. Presented to the House of
>Representatives, December 5, 1791_ 22 (Evans Digital Edition)  When the
>manufacturing capitalist of Europe shall advert to the many important
>advantages, which have been intimated, in the course of this report, he
>cannot but perceive very powerful inducements to a transfer of himself and
>his capital to the United States.
>Fred Shapiro
>Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
>Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
>   Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
>Yale Law School                             forthcoming
>e-mail: fred.shapiro at     

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