From the New York Times story today on JPMorgan’s recent gambling losses, now at $5,800,000,000 and headed south:
…Ina R. Drew, the senior executive who resigned as head of the chief investment office shortly after the trading losses, volunteered to give back her pay. The giveback is a precipitous fall for Ms. Drew, once one of Mr. Dimon’s most trusted executives. Ms. Drew earned roughly $14 million last year, making her the bank’s fourth-highest-paid officer. Ms. Drew declined to comment…
I may have bitched about this before, but here goes again. Republican word-twister Frank Luntz doesn’t even need to bother twisting the word “earn” into a new frame. Standard media usage has already done the job for him, as we see in the paragraph above. Historically, “earn” carried a favorable connotation: study hard and you earned a Phi Beta Kappa key; honest dealing earned you a good reputation; you earned your salary by working hard at some productive task.
By and large the word was used to describe a particular type of exchange — one party providing something desirable and useful to a second party and receiving a reward for it in rough proportion to the service provided. A win-win transaction.
We would not say that your uncle Charlie earned a hundred bucks at the poker table last week, or that a lottery winner earned a million dollars, or that Bernie Madoff earned a billion, or that Mitt Romney earned a fortune from his father’s will.
In what sense, then, did Ms. Drew “earn” $14,000,000 last year?
It isn’t that the English language lacks words to describe what Ms. Drew and Mr. Dimon do for their money. Here is a short list:
Get hold of, grab, get, receive, snatch, take, grasp, amass, obtain, seize, get your hands on, divert, embezzle, skim, swindle, mulct, extract, acquire, gain, procure, score, secure, misappropriate, siphon, loot.
Take your pick, but give “earn” a rest.