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.

The aforementioned link for the Russian etymon lists its meanings:

  1. to eliminate, to abolish
  2. to dissolve
  3. to stamp out, to do away with, to destroy, to kill (off)
  4. to liquidate
  1. Were meanings 1 and 3 in any Latin etymon? I don't see them in liquidus on Wiktionary or liquo from the Oxford Latin Dictionary (2012 2 ed):

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  1. If I'm correct, then how did meanings 1 and 3 arise in Russian?

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?

2 Answers 2


As to your first question: I can't find anything in Lewis & Short either. If both the Oxford Latin Dictionary and Lewis & Short have nothing close to that sense for any word related to liquid (liquo, liqueo, liquor, liquidus, liquido), then it seems the origin must indeed lie elsewhere. The closest I found was a secondary sense of the verb liquor, but it's still not close enough by far:

II. Trop., to melt or waste away: "ilico res foras labitur, liquitur", Plaut. Trin. 2, 1, 17: "in partem pejorem liquitur aetas", Lucr. 2, 1132: per poli liquentis axem, Prud. στεφ. 1, 88.

  • So you'd say that the meaning "abolish" or similar is probably a Slavic invention?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Apr 24, 2019 at 21:22
  • @JoonasIlmavirta♦: Since the Oxford English Dictionary says so (see the info from the Question) and it does not come from Latin, that's probably the case!
    – Cerberus
    Apr 24, 2019 at 21:33
  • @Cerberus Thank you both. Any input on question 2?
    – user3136
    Apr 25, 2019 at 5:37
  • @Antinatalist: I'm afraid I know nothing about Russian. You could ask on the Russian Stack Exchange.
    – Cerberus
    Apr 25, 2019 at 12:39

The Russian usage may be influenced by the German term liquidieren in the economical sense "to sell all commodities of an enterprise and shut it down", mostly but not necessarily in the case of bancruptcy. Metaphorically, money is a liquid, and the commodities are solids.

German liquidieren also has the meaning (attested since the 16th century) "to cash in", see https://drw-www.adw.uni-heidelberg.de/drw-cgi/zeige?index=lemmata&term=liquidieren

  • Hmm the English is also attested from the 16th century in an economical sense.
    – Cerberus
    May 10, 2019 at 16:20
  • Trade is international, after all. But for Russian in the 19th century or earlier, a German influence is more plausible than an English one. May 10, 2019 at 16:25
  • Yes. But, if it was already an internationally used term, I think it makes the most sense to emphasise that aspect.
    – Cerberus
    May 10, 2019 at 16:27
  • My sources just don't give the international relations. For trade terms at that time, an Italian origin is plausible, but alas, where to look that up ... (wiktionary is not exact enough at this moment to say something definite) May 10, 2019 at 16:34
  • Yes, or just from Latin!
    – Cerberus
    May 10, 2019 at 23:29

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