General English

  • noun a great or daring achievement
  • verb to make unfair use of someone, usually by paying them very low wages


  • verb to use something to make a profit


  • To take advantage of someone or something for one's own benefit. Economists often use the term with a neutral or positive connotation, advocating that one should fully exploit one's resources for example. Others see the term as quite negative, viewing exploitation as being done at the expense of others, which in some cases (e.g., monopsony) it is.

Origin & History of “exploit”

Latin explicāre (source of English explicate and explicit) meant ‘unfold’. A vulgar Latin descendant of its past participle was *explictum ‘something unfolded’, which passed into Old French as exploit or esplait. In the process, the original sense of ‘unfolding’ had developed through ‘bringing out, development’ and ‘advantage, success’ to ‘achievement’. In the case of the English noun, it is the latter meaning which has survived, and in fact originally the verb too denoted ‘achieve, accomplish’. This seems to have died out in the 18th century, however, and when the verb reappears in the 19th century it is closer to the earlier ‘develop’ in meaning, particularly as applied to ‘getting the most out of’ natural resources. The modern derogatory sense ‘use for one’s own selfish ends’ emerged from this.