So What IS the Etymology of ROI?

At the opening of “What’s the ROI for This Article?” Todd Wasserman points to a shift in language: The phrase “return on investment” began to grow in popularity just as the phrase “return on capital” began to lose popularity.

The word-nerd in me immediately perked up. Why would the language change if we’re still talking about pretty much the same thing—”bang for your buck,” as Wasserman says.

Alas, Wasserman notes that the reasons are “unclear.”

I looked at the Google Ngram he provided and saw that the increased usage of ROI began in the 1960s. And I couldn’t help but wonder if the shift began—at least in part—because the term “investment” was more amenable to the mood of the Sixties than the term “capital” was. As is so frequently the case, language morphs with the times.

Any bets on whether a political scientist somewhere has already written the article on this? Otherwise, there’s got to be a master’s thesis in here somewhere…

1 comment for “So What IS the Etymology of ROI?

  1. December 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I was left with the same question after reading Wasserland’s Mashable article. He didn’t really answer it. But I looked for the etymology of the different individual words (tend to be a lot more resources on those), and actually found some helpful info:

    Etymology of Investment http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=investment — indicates that the term “invest”/”investment” gained a sense of converting for profit around 1610 with the rise of the East Indies Trading Company. (See also: “invest” http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=invest&allowed_in_frame=0 )

    “Capital” from Return on Capital is a little harder to pin down: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=capital&allowed_in_frame=0

    What’s interesting is that “Return” gained the sense “a yield, a profit” around the 1620s – 10 years apart from Investment’s related sense. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=return&allowed_in_frame=0

    Glad someone else was curious what the real answer was! :)

    Evan

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