I was reading the etymology of the English 'liquidate', when I read on Wiktionary that

The sense "to kill, do away with" is a semantic loan from Russian ликвиди́ровать (likvidírovatʹ), ultimately from Latin liquidus.

  1. This sense wasn't in the Latin etymon, and thus must have commenced in Russian?

  2. Thus how did meaning #2 (the original) develop to 1 and 3? What semantic notions underlie them?

I know that live humans can be killed by dissolving them in acid, but this method of killing appears too uncommon (I hope!), unethical and frightful to beget this semantic shift?

  1. to eliminate, to abolish
  2. to dissolve
  3. to stamp out, to do away with, to destroy, to kill (off)
  4. to liquidate
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    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 9:36
  • In Russian the "getting rid of" sense is the primary. Killing is secondary (just because it is the most sure cheap way to get rid of a human). The famous examples would be en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Likbez or "liquidating grain loan sharks as a class". Today you can hear about liquidating debts or liquidating unwanted dependencies, etc. Then, a retro-movie en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquidation_(miniseries) etc Killing is never a primary meaning but just a specialization of the whole concept for the narrow case.
    – Arioch
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 16:35
  • @Arioch I wonder -the phrase 'grain loan shark' - did you read it in some book or other source in English?
    – alexsms
    Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 13:26
  • @alexsms no, i just put a general description. I could say "world-eaters" (or should it be society-eaters? or peace-eaters?) but it would sound like Harry Potter fanfic without giving any idea who and why were liquidated.
    – Arioch
    Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 14:36

1 Answer 1


ликвидировать initially meant "to convert to liquid assets", as of stock, capital etc.

As converting a business to cash would mean selling it, this word came to mean "to get rid of" and then, by extension, acquired the metaphorical meaning "to kill".

  • 3
    Источник. ЛИКВИДИРОВАТЬ новолатинск. liquidare, от лат. liquere, быть чистым. Уплачивать долги и прекращать торговые дела. Объяснение 25000 иностранных слов, вошедших в употребление в русский язык, с означением их корней.- Михельсон А.Д., 1865.
    – V.V.
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 16:09
  • Thanks! Just to clarify: did 'liquid assets' exist back then where the early dialects of Russian were spoken?
    – user9822
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 5:15
  • What early dialects? The earliest mention in the corpus is from around 1860's, and it's a certain borrowing from a European language, most probably French. The meaning of "to get rid of" is around 1890's, that of "to kill" is early 1920's.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 8:25
  • @Quassnoi The first quote in my post (from Wiktionary) contends that ликвидировать originated from Latin. Do you know in what year approximately? If this borrowing happened after modern Russian's onset in 1800, then I am referring to ликвидировать before modern Russian.
    – user9822
    Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 1:47
  • It says "ultimately from Latin", which means it has a root of Latin origin but it's not certain how exactly did this word end up in Russian: might be through French or through German. It does not mean that Latin itself had such a word. As I said, the first mention in the corpus is from 1860's, so the borrowing should not have happened long before that.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 8:40

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