Words-worth: Entrepreneur

An entrepreneur is someone who starts a business, as opposed to someone who merely manages one.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

In 2002, George Bush was reported as telling Tony Blair that 'the problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur'. Whether he said it or not, it made people laugh, because the word is so obviously French. From the verb entreprendre, it means to undertake. When it arrived here in the 1820s, it meant someone who ran a musical institution, a theatre, or, later, a casino. Only in the 1890s did it take on its modern meaning of someone who takes the risk in a business enterprise. Since the 1970s, we have also had the idea of the social entrepreneur, who starts an organisation dedicated to dealing with social problems. Do the French have a word for entrepreneur? Yes, but they've only just acquired it: it's entrepreneur. In French, entrepreneur meant something humble, like 'contractor': un entrepreneur de transports, for instance, is a haulage contractor. Now it has our meaning, but only because they have taken it back from us. How very enterprising of them.

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