Is there a word that means "unfair" with economic connotations? Specifically, to mean bribing one's way out of something? However, I also want to avoid words that imply intent to benefit on the part of the party being bribed. Essentially, words that blame it on "the system", not the people involved.

Example sentence:

I can't believe that we're allowed to buy our grades now. That seems a bit ____

  • Can you use swindling, cheating, mercenary, corrupt, or fraudulent? – Yosef Baskin Mar 24 '17 at 15:56
  • @YosefBaskin, I want to avoid words with connotations of malicious intent if possible, but at least to stay away from words that imply benefit on the part of the person paid. – cat40 Mar 24 '17 at 16:11
  • 1
    So, you want a word for bribing but not negative? – Yosef Baskin Mar 24 '17 at 16:15
  • Have you considered slanted, skewed, or imbalanced? – Davo Mar 24 '17 at 16:18
  • Grease someone's palm? In some countries I have visited, mostly in the Far East the euphemism for petty bribery is "coffee money". In Britain, where they exist, such are called "backhanders". – WS2 Mar 24 '17 at 16:48

You could try venal - showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery.

If you want a lighter touch, maybe inequitable; it's a lot more generic, but has a small financial connotation due to equity having a specific definition (assets minus liabilities) in investment jargon.

  • Venal tends to emphasize the personal immorality of the person being bribed, whereas the OP requests a more systemic and generalized term. – agc Mar 24 '17 at 18:33
  • Actually, I would say inequitable has a very strong economic connotation; check out all the examples at Oxford Dictionaries. I'd say at least a third directly refer to something about economic disparity, taxes, class, etc. – 1006a Mar 25 '17 at 16:48

This Wikipedia article includes a definition of classism as:

any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition."

In OPs example sentence

I can't believe that we're allowed to buy our grades now. That seems a bit classist.

Many people feel that there are some things which money should not be able to buy. School grades are an example. If we believe grades should be awarded solely on the basis of academic performance then a policy of allowing students to buy higher grades would be an example of classism, because it allows those who can afford it to buy their way out of studying.

Sometimes a person sentenced to prison may be able to avoid it by paying a fine, provided he is rich enough to do so. Alternatively a person may be able, for a fee, to choose to stay in a more comfortable, better equipped jail. This is not unofficial bribery, but a perfectly above-board practice, which however many people feel is wrong.

The effect of such practices could be described as classist in that they discriminate by allowing the well-off to "bribe" their way out of something.

Another word we could use here is "commercial", in the sense of intended to make a profit.

I can't believe that we're allowed to buy our grades now. That seems a bit commercial.


Allowing people to pay to jump the queue at airport security is a bit commercial.

Usually commercial is not a negative word, but can be used to suggest something which should not be managed for profit, and where everybody should be treated fairly, is actually being run for profit. There is no suggestion the employees are corrupt, but the system itself may be seen as unfair.


1: of or relating to a prostitute : having the nature of prostitution
* meretricious relationships
-- MW


Unjust could fit: not fair or deserved (M-W). That has the element that it could result from "the system" rather than necessarily an intent to benefit on the part of the party.

Corrupt might be another term: dishonest or deteriorated. It can refer to the system in which the action happens or to the actors, themselves.

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