A term for profit-hungry cowboys

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Wilma_Sweden

Senior Member
Swedish (Scania)
In Swedish there is a term ('klippare') for individuals or companies that go into business to make a quick profit with the least effort possible, including providing sub-standard products or service. In the Nordic forum someone asked about it, and I explained what it means, but I couldn't think of a similar English term, i.e. a single noun, that would have this meaning. Initially it was used about those making a quick and huge killing on the stock market, but subsequently, the meaning was extended to anyone wanting to make a quick and easy profit, usually legally, although they may operate at the boundaries of what is legal.

The best I could come up with was 'profit-hungry cowboys', but I'm not sure whether that would accurately describe what I mean. Can you think of some other term that would have this meaning?

/Wilma
 
  • johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A “cowboy” is all you need, Wilma Sweden; it refers to anyone who operates in the way you describe. Also, “shyster”... no doubt there are more...
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I'm not at all certain that "cowboy" carries the same connotation in AE. In my experience it does not.

    A "cowboy" is a "shoot from the hip" kind of guy--a person that reacts instinctively rather than purposefully. He is often a "bit rough around the edges", that is he often lacks much refinement.

    But "greed" is not one of the qualities associated with "cowboy" in AE as far as I know.

    "Greedy Wall Street guy" might work nowadays. As Michael Douglas said in "Wall Street", one of his earlier movies, "Greed is good."

    See: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094291/quotes
     
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    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I agree with Packard. AE usage of cowboy lacks the sense of dishonesty and greed.

    I suggest fast operator.

    Random House Unabridged:

    Fast:
    cleverly quick and manipulative in making money: a fast operator when it comes to closing a business deal.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    It is curious (is it not?) that the quintessentially upstanding and down-homey AE term cowboys should have taken on such a negative quality in BE, while it continues 'unsullied' in AE.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    It is curious (is it not?) that the quintessentially upstanding and down-homey AE term cowboys should have taken on such a negative quality in BE, while it continues 'unsullied' in AE.
    It is not entirely "unsullied". There is a derogatory use of "cowboy" as in someone that is dangerously instinctive and disregards standard safety protocols.

    I don't refer anyone to Dr. Quincy. He's too much a cowboy and he takes chances I don't want my patients to have to endure.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I don't refer anyone to Dr. Quincy. He's too much a cowboy and he takes chances I don't want my patients to have to endure.
    Oh right ~ I wasn't aware of that, Mr.P. That pretty much covers (a part of) what constitutes a British cowboy, in particular a cowboy builder ~ gentlemen who operate almost exclusively outside the law.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    In my corner of the AE world, from about N.J. up to the Canadian border, a cowboy is also a speedy and reckless driver, often chased and run down by Smokey the Bear (highway police).
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    There's the term profit-monger.

    I agree that cowboy wouldn't work. In my world, that's a hottie who looks good in chaps.

    AngelEyes
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I’ve just recalled, from the murky depths, another term which might fit the bill when ‘cowboy’ doesn’t suit: wheeler-dealer.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    In some contexts, "A riverboad gambler" might work.

    (Someone who leaves home to do some gambling.)
     
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    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Thanks to all of you for your exellent suggestions. As usual, the Atlantic gets in the way of what works and what doesn't! :D

    I'd never heard of shyster or riverboard gambler, and I associated 'wheeler-dealer' with oil tycoons, JR Ewing of course being the archetypal one... ;)

    I guess that if profit-monger works in both camps, that might be our best bet, and if the audience is mainly UK, I'd probably use cowboy.

    Out of curiosity, I found that the Swedish term is derived from 'coupon-clipper', which was an old derogatory term for 'Wall Street greedies' - in order to get dividends paid from your stock or bonds, you had to cut off the special coupons provided with the share certificates.

    /Wilma
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If your text is for the UK market, then don’t discount ‘wheeler-dealer’, Wilma. It might mean ‘oil tycoon’ in the States, but in England it conjures up a very different character—the most famous being Arthur Daley in the TV series Minder; a far cry from JR.

    (And thanks for the extra background which was not in the foreground at the beginning of the thread!—Just joking!)
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    If your text is for the UK market, then don’t discount ‘wheeler-dealer’, Wilma. It might mean ‘oil tycoon’ in the States, but in England it conjures up a very different character—the most famous being Arthur Daley in the TV series Minder; a far cry from JR.
    :D OMG - I'd almost forgotten about him! Used to love the show - "always up for a nice little earner, a little dodgy maybe, but underneath 'es alright..." (I thought I had that vinyl single by the Firm somewhere - can't find it now)! :(

    (And thanks for the extra background which was not in the foreground at the beginning of the thread!—Just joking!)
    :D

    /Wilma
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    the most famous being Arthur Daley in the TV series Minder
    I have ~ more than once ~ heard people of this type being referred to as a bit of an Arthur Daley (type), so well-known is that character in the UK.
    Oh and let's not forget Del Boy ~ though all his schemes end in failure.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    A profit-monger is not at all a common term in AE, though it would be understood to mean someone obsessed with earning money. A wheeler-dealer is a shady businessman or woman.

    Coupon clippers in AE are people assumed to have a substantial portfolio of bonds, living off their capital more than from salary or wages. There is nothing disreputable about coupon clippers.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    A profit-monger is not at all a common term in AE, though it would be understood to mean someone obsessed with earning money.
    I'm surprised you think that.

    Profit monger as both a noun and an adjective seems to fit this, in my mind, and I've always considered it an almost standard term that's readily used.

    You're right, where I've seen it used a lot is in the Wall Street Journal, which is geared toward businessmen.

    But that's the point here: something that is readily and throughly identified when relating to businessmen who live to seize lucrative opportunities.

    I'm no expert, though, so maybe you have a point.

    AngelEyes
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I've heard of "fish mongers", but "profit mongers" would make me think. I'd understand it, but it hardly seems part of the scenery in NY at any rate.
     

    ATLGradStudent

    Senior Member
    English - American
    A term that is most common in wartime and applies primarily to those who sell scarce resources is "profiteer."

    A similar term that has specific historical usage but more broadly applies to major capitalists who use unethical or questionable methods to make exorbitant profits is "robber baron."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I like "profiteer", ATLGradStudent. I think it can be used outside its original wartime context....
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think I'd go with"

    A man whose fiduciary policy was to maximize his personal wealth...
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    In Swedish there is a term ('klippare') for individuals or companies that go into business to make a quick profit with the least effort possible, including providing sub-standard products or service. In the Nordic forum someone asked about it, and I explained what it means, but I couldn't think of a similar English term, i.e. a single noun, that would have this meaning. Initially it was used about those making a quick and huge killing on the stock market, but subsequently, the meaning was extended to anyone wanting to make a quick and easy profit, usually legally, although they may operate at the boundaries of what is legal.

    The best I could come up with was 'profit-hungry cowboys', but I'm not sure whether that would accurately describe what I mean. Can you think of some other term that would have this meaning?
    Many of the terms suggested have one or more of the characteristics Wilma has enumerated, but few if any satisfy all of the stated conditions. Most focus on individuals rather than companies, and few give enough emphasis to "the least effort possible" or to "easy profit".

    Fast operators and wheeler dealers come close, but those terms refer to individuals, not companies. Robber barons were certainly not in business for a quick profit; most were monopolists or oligopolists. Profiteers are established businesses that take advantage of temporary conditions such as shortages or unusual demand for product.

    Shark might work for individuals (–noun 1. a person who preys greedily on others, as by cheating or usury.-Random House Unabridged) but does not apply to firms.

    I don't think AE has an exact match.
     

    ewhite

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    I go with Cuchuflete: "shark" or "Wall Street shark" for individuals. For companies, I'm at a loss.

    And shyster, to me, means crooked lawyer, not someone involved with finance.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    For firms, fly-by-night operation might work in specific contexts. It certainly implies an outfit set up to make a quick buck, then disappear from view just before the sheriff arrives.
     

    nmkit

    Member
    English-US
    A term I've heard before, and would fit in this instance is a "Shylock", from Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice". While usually it refers to a shady lender I've heard it used for shady businessman too.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    A term I've heard before, and would fit in this instance is a "Shylock", from Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice". While usually it refers to a shady lender I've heard it used for shady businessman too.
    Would it? I've never come across it used to describe a firm. Can you give an example of Shylock used in keeping with the requirements stated in the first post?
     

    nmkit

    Member
    English-US
    Hi Cuchuflete,

    The original post said a "term for individuals or companies". While Shylock can obviously used for individuals a firm could be "Those Shylocks at XYZ Corporation".

    Salud
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Thanks nmkit,

    I guess I wasn't clear enough in my request, which was for an actual, not an invented, example. Shylock has a long history as a term meaning money-lender or usurer, but I've never come across it used to mean "shady businessman". If you have seen it used that way, please provide the examples and sources.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Many of the terms suggested have one or more of the characteristics Wilma has enumerated, but few if any satisfy all of the stated conditions. Most focus on individuals rather than companies, and few give enough emphasis to "the least effort possible" or to "easy profit".
    I admit defeat in my quest and accept that there is no exact translation equivalent.

    However, some of the terms referring to individuals would qualify as a 'near-hit' as the original term, after all, could easily refer to the individuals running those companies rather than the companies themselves, i.e. the original meaning was certainly used about individual persons.

    Chuchu's remark about coupon clippers not being disreputable is interesting. I think the reason why it's been used as a derogatory term over here is simply because of left-wing rhetoric - people earning peanuts for hard physical labour would most probably have a go at the <sarcastic> 'hard labour' required to clip coupons, and yet those coupon clippers earn millions.

    Thank you all for your efforts - it has been most educational, and I've learnt a number of new word in the process! :D

    /Wilma
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Ha! "Scalper".

    There you go. And it sounds just like Kilppare. (Well, when you are "scalped" your hair is "clipped"--a stretch, I'll admit.)
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Chuchu's remark about coupon clippers not being disreputable is interesting. I think the reason why it's been used as a derogatory term over here is simply because of left-wing rhetoric - people earning peanuts for hard physical labour would most probably have a go at the <sarcastic> 'hard labour' required to clip coupons, and yet those coupon clippers earn millions.

    We have left-wing rhetoric here too, and some parlor-pink variations. Coupon clippers is an old-fashioned term in AE, but often was used to refer to retired workers (paragons of left-wing virtue!) who had bought a few bonds to provide income in their
    "golden years". The image of the coupon clipper was that of a sedate, perhaps dowdy old sort, not a Wall Street fat cat.

    The two definitions co-exist in different editions of the Random House Unabridged:

    noun a well-to-do person much of whose income is derived from clipping and cashing coupons from coupon bonds. Origin:
    1880–85]
    Main Entry: coupon clipper
    Part of Speech: n Definition: any person who derives income from or buys products based on coupons
    Emphasis added
     
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