1From Term to Concept: the Entrepreneur and his Economic Function

1.1. Etymological and conceptual bases of the entrepreneur

The term “entrepreneur” entered economic theory during the 18th Century (initially in the writings of Richard Cantillon), but it is much older than that. It took some time for the word to take on today’s meaning of a person who creates a (frequently innovative) business; the original meaning of “entrepreneur” was an individual who behaves actively, one who acts. For this reason, the French verb “entreprendre” denoted warlike action. A brief summary of the history of the term reveals that it developed in the same way in several cultures. The same word is used in both French and English: entrepreneur. It comes from the Latin phrase “inter prehendere”, meaning “seize with the hand”, in the sense of physically mastering something.

The French words “entrepreneur” and “entreprise”, which come from the verb “entreprendre”, can be traced back to the 16th Century. Their meaning and the way they are used have both evolved considerably over the centuries, according to usage and practice. Before the 16th Century, during the Middle Ages, the word “entrepreneur” denoted an individual who indulged in speculative activities. The word did not yet denote manufacturers, tradesmen or businessmen, but more generally a person who entered into a contract with a monarch to build a public building or provide supplies for armies. The same is true of the meaning of the French word ...

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