Merriam-Webster reads:

Main Entry: liq·ui·date
Pronunciation: \ˈli-kwə-ˌdāt\
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): liq·ui·dat·ed; liq·ui·dat·ing
Etymology: Late Latin liquidatus, past participle of liquidare to melt, from Latin liquidus
Date: circa 1575
transitive verb
1 a (1) : to determine by agreement or by litigation the precise amount of (indebtedness, damages, or accounts) (2) : to determine the liabilities and apportion assets toward discharging the indebtedness of b : to settle (a debt) by payment or other settlement
2 archaic : to make clear
3 : to do away with
4 : to convert (assets) into cash
intransitive verb
1 : to liquidate debts, damages, or accounts
2 : to determine liabilities and apportion assets toward discharging indebtedness

Dissidents were all liquidated or driven into exile.

Where does this connotation of the verb 'liquidate' come from?

  • Are you asking which dictionary entry is the source of the metaphorical usage?
    – Mitch
    Aug 16 '12 at 22:16
  • @Mitch No! Merriam-Webster quote is only necessary to prove that that usage is more likely true than not true! Aug 16 '12 at 22:26
  • 2
    Then what are you asking for? I can't imagine there being anything more than'it's metaphorical'.
    – Mitch
    Aug 16 '12 at 22:37
  • Meaning 3: to do away with.
    – J.R.
    Aug 17 '12 at 0:33

The use of liquidate and liquidation as a euphemism for killing or disposing of “inconvenient groups of persons” dates from about 1924 or 1925, according to the etymonline.com entries referenced at the beginning of this sentence. Those links seem to suggest that liquidate in this particular sense may have followed from Russian likvidirovat.

Use of liquidate as a term for closing down a business and liquidating all its assets, as a meaning derived from late or middle Latin liquidatus, past participle of liquidare, “to melt, make liquid or clear, clarify”, is suggestive of the new sense, disposing of an inconvenient group.

Interestingly, use of liquid as an adjective modifying the word assets came along somewhat later (1818) than use of liquidation in financial assets sense (1570s) or liquidate in financial sense of clearing a debt (1755).


I believe (though with no sources) it was a 1920s Soviet euphemism, presumably a translation from Russian.

  • 1
    ODO references the Russian likvidirovatʹ
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 16 '12 at 22:17
  • According to OEtmD, the origin in the Soviet euphemism is uncertain, but more importantly applies strictly to the sense "wipe out; kill". So that's a source you could link to the answer.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 16 '12 at 22:36
  • 1
    Care to add en.wiktionary.org/wiki/liquidate and www.oed.com/view/Entry/108917 to your answer?
    – NNOX Apps
    Apr 22 '19 at 6:09
  • @Antinatalist: you can always edit to improve posts, including mine. But linking to the subscription-only OED is not very helpful on this site and I personally don't have much time for wiktionary. Apr 22 '19 at 9:42

The definition from the Webster you quote is pretty, er, clear.

The meaning is already present in the Latin liquidus which means both "liquid" and "clear, evident".
This obviously comes from liquids being limpid (transparent). Limpid by the way (another Latin cognate, originally from Oscan origin) gives Spanish limpido and limpiar.
Also liquare means "to filter". So that the idea of transparency and purity is already strongly associated with liquids in Latin.

From clarify you then get the financial aspect: to clarify a balance sheet: assets and liabilities.
This is attested in France in the 16th century, and in England in the 17th century (OED liquidate v. 1). It is also used in the sense of selling all one's possessions (19th century).

From this as @TimLymington and others have noted (OED liquidate v. 2 meaning 7):

[after Russ. likvidírovat′ to liquidate, wind up.] To put an end to, abolish; to stamp out, wipe out; to kill.


Per the OED, it comes from the Russian.

7. after Russ. likvidírovat′ to liquidate, wind up. To put an end to, abolish; to stamp out, wipe out; to kill.

  • 1924 Yale Rev. XIII. 477 ― In this way the ‘Labor Opposition’, the ‘Workers Pravda’, and a few other recalcitrant groups were all ‘liquidated’.
  • 1926 C. Sheridan Turkish Kaleidoscope xvi. 125 ― The evening paper, L’Akcham, came out with large headlines: ‘How to Liquidate a Strike’.
  • 1930 Economist 1 Nov. (Russ. Suppl.) 2/2 ― Only in 1929, when the growth of the Socialist section of agriculture was enabling the State to become independent of the supplies of the Kulaks, could the Government begin to ‘liquidate’ them.
  • 1939 V. A. Demant Relig. Prospect iv. 90 ― The Trotskyists··are ‘liquidated’ as being insufficiently dialectical to see that the policy of the Russian State at any moment has absolute finality.
  • 1943 C. S. Lewis Abolition of Man iii. 37 ― Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements.
  • 1957 Partridge English gone Wrong ii. 31 ― Liquidate, therefore, is an erudite synonym of ‘to wind up’, hence, in its euphemistic transferred sense, it means ‘to eradicate in a thoroughly ruthless manner’, ‘to destroy, especially by mass murder’.
  • 1970 Nature 26 Dec. 1248/2 ― All existing sources of industrial pollution are to be ‘liquidated’.
  • 1971 Sunday Times 13 June 12/6 ― When the army units fanned out in Dacca on the evening of March 25··many of them carried lists of people to be liquidated.

Hence ˈliquidated ppl. a., ˈliquidating vbl. sb. and ppl. a.

  • 1727 Bailey vol. II, ― Liquidated, made moist or clear; also spoken of Bills made current or payable; pay’d off, cleared.
  • 1749 Connect. Col. Rec. (1876) IX. 453 ― That he press forward the liquidating, settling and obtaining final payment for the accounts.
  • 1798 Bay Amer. Law Rep. (1809) I. 16 ― Liquidated accounts.
  • 1848 Arnould Mar. Insur. i. iv. (1866) I. 181 ― Debts in the legal sense, that is, liquidated and ascertained amounts.
  • 1891 Daily News 15 Jan. 2/2 ― A substantial surplus will remain for division among the partners of the liquidated firm.
  • 1895 Daily News 8 May 8/7 ― Wheat··declined under the combined control of lower cables, further rains in the West, and active liquidating.
  • 1899 Daily News 2 Feb. 4/7 ― Liquidating or abortive companies.
  • 1931 Economist 20 June 1331/1 ― The market capitalisation of the common shares of these concerns was equal to only 74 per cent. of the ‘liquidating value’ of the assets behind them.
  • 1964 Ann. Reg. 1963 103 ― It provided that··the permanent heads of the three territorial Treasuries would constitute a liquidating agency to wind up the affairs of the Federation.
  • 1975 [see liquidator c].
  • 1
    Direct link to OED - www.oed.com/view/Entry/108917
    – NNOX Apps
    Apr 22 '19 at 6:10

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