profiteer = 'make any kind of profit'

Damien Hall D.Hall at KENT.AC.UK
Fri Oct 14 08:04:35 UTC 2011

Heard from a BBC economics correspondent this morning; in the context of UK natural-gas and electricity companies, whose profits have all gone up hugely between the last quarter and this one:

'[the companies say they] aren't profiteering - well, not profiteering excessively - from their customers'

She was explaining that these utility companies say that their eight-fold increase in profits between quarters isn't a result of their taking advantage of customers, but of increases in the market prices of their fuels, which increases they have to pass on to their customers. The fact that the correspondent had to specify that the companies said they weren't profiteering _excessively_ suggests that they had acknowledged doing what she called 'profiteering' to an acceptable level - so, since the companies are unlikely to have acknowledged that they were profiteers in the traditional sense, the correspondent must be using 'profiteer' to mean simply 'make a profit'.

This looks like semantic extension, fairly unremarkable as a process, but this particular instance was new on me, and doesn't feature in OED or MW online.



Damien Hall

University of Kent (UK)
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, 'Towards a New Linguistic Atlas of France'

English Language and Linguistics, School of European Culture and Languages

The American Dialect Society -

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