Etymology: Entrepreneur

entrepreneur.gifFellow blogger and VC, Ouriel Ohayon, recently pondered the origin of the word “entrepreneur.” Being an etymology buff, I decided to do some research. Enjoy this lineage, going back to 1828!

From the Oxford-English Dictionary:


[Fr.: see entreprenour.]

a. The director or manager of a public musical institution.

b. One who ‘gets up’ entertainments, esp. musical performances.

1828 J. Ebers Seven Years King’s Theatre iv. 115 The payment of the benefit expenses by the unfortunate entrepreneur. A manager animal whom it is supposed lawful and commendable to bleed at every vein.

1838 Actors by Daylight I. 230 On the first landing of the Bayaderes at Bordeaux this active entrepreneur despatched a messenger instanter to that city.

1878 Grove Dict. Mus. I. 104 Concerts were started by..a well-known entrepreneur of the day.

1882 Musical Times 1 Feb. 108/1 Mr… begs to inform Projectors of Concerts, Secretaries of Institutions, and Entrepreneurs generally.

c. Pol. Econ. One who undertakes an enterprise; one who owns and manages a business; a person who takes the risk of profit or loss.

1852 Carlyle Let. 15 Sept. in J. A. Froude Life of Carlyle II. xx. 107 A public set of rooms;Kursaal they call such things, finer than some palaces, all supported by gambling, all built by one French gambling entrepreneur.

1883 F. A. Walker Pol. Econ. i. i. 203 The employer, or entrepreneur, receiving profits.

Ibid. vi. xi. 432 The state as capitalist is at no small disadvantage; as entrepreneur, that disadvantage is vastly aggravated.

1889 R. T. Ely Introd. Pol. Econ. (1891) 170 We have..been obliged to resort to the French language for a word to designate the person who organizes and directs the productive factors, and we call such a one an entrepreneur.

1922 F. Lavington Trade Cycle iii. 19 In modern times the entrepreneur assumes many forms. He may be a private business man, a partnership, a joint stock company, a co-operative society, a municipality or similar body.

1930 J. M. Keynes Treat. Money I. ix. 124 The individuals who perform entrepreneur functions.

Ibid. xi. 159 Entrepreneurs will sometimes begin to act before the price-changes which are the justification of their action have actually occurred.

1959 J. Braine Vodi viii. 123 Tom’s father looked every inch the successful entrepreneur.

1959 Listener 26 Nov. 915/2 Where their predecessors were flanked by engineers and scientists, the new-style entrepreneurs will be buttressed by sales managers and advertising experts.



1934 in Webster.

1959 Economist 14 Feb. 588/1 Entrepreneurship..might be common to all developing economies.

1968 Sci. Jrnl. Dec. 79/1 MIT-based entrepreneurship.

entrepreneurial, a.

[f. entrepreneur + -ial.]

Of or pertaining to an entrepreneur or entrepreneurs.

1922 H. L. Reed Devel. Federal Reserve Policy i. 6 Occasionally entrepreneurial activity is injured by the rising scale of prices, the public utility and railroad fields.

1940 Economist 24 Feb. 333/1 The mature economy theory is confined to academic..circles; it is rarely encountered in business or financial, and never in entrepreneurial, groups.

1951 C. W. Mills White Collar i. ii. 26 The small businessman has been deprived of his old entrepreneurial function.

1964 Economica Aug. 332 He was a solid Kent landowner and farmer of the businesslike kind with his risks well spread in land, trade and government contracting… Dr. Coleman’s biography is a model of what real entrepreneurial history can do for economic history.

1966 New Scientist 17 Nov. 366/2 It is an entreprenurial business venture, designed to take advantage of the rapid development of data processing.


entrepre’neurially adv.

1960 New Left. Rev. Sept./Oct. 28/2 The entrepreneurially-minded who could not move so rapidly in the managerial world of the big corporations.



  1. very interesting: thanks for the research

  2. Thanks for that! Interesting, however I always thought that entrepreneur came from the word entreprendre, meaning to “undertake”.

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