"The idea of dressing one’s capital up in different clothes by putting it into a particular business, stock, etc." is curious to me. How is allocating capital into a particular business, stock, etc. related to "dressing one's capital up"? This semantic relation probably would never cross the mind of an an average Joe like mine.

In 2021, we definitely don't think of finance or financial economics as "dressing one's capital up in different clothes"! Before I read these quotations, I had never heard of this kooky idea of "dressing one's capital up" in stocks, bonds, Exchange Traded Funds, etc.

invest [16]

The etymological notion underlying invest is of ‘putting on clothes’. It comes via Old French investir from Latin investīre, a compound verb formed from the prefix in- and vestis ‘clothes’ (source of English vest, vestment, travesty, etc). It retained that original literal sense ‘clothe’ in English for several centuries, but now it survives only in its metaphorical descendant ‘instal in an office’ (as originally performed by clothing in special garments). Its financial sense, first recorded in English in the early 17th century, is thought to have originated in Italian investire from the idea of dressing one’s capital up in different clothes by putting it into a particular business, stock, etc.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto, p 291.

Invest - 9 Financial Words With Surprising Origins | Merriam-Webster

The financial meaning of the word also descends from Latin, but it entered English via Italian in the early 17th century. In Italian, investire developed a special sense fabricated from the notion of "clothing" money in a new form. That use was attached to the English word invest, which eventually came to refer to a commitment of money to earn a return. This financial sense of invest is attested in the early 1600s in connection with trading by the East India Company.

  • 7
    Welcome! What is the question? This seems more like a blog post. – egreg Mar 14 at 10:31
  • 2
    So you never heard of “vested interest”, “dressing” for salad, and so on, just to mention some cases that are directly related? And word formation is even more fanciful and rich than this. No need for this “freakish”, “kinky”, “kooky”, exclamation-point-ridden hysteria. ;) – DaG Mar 14 at 16:28
  • @DaG Yes, "dressing" for salad, but we're not talking about salads here. "vested interest"...i forgot about that one, but I don't understand the etymology of that one. Just edit my post and remove those adjectives if you want. Thanks in advance. – Coosf Mar 14 at 22:14
  • @egreg please see title "How did the idea of dressing your capital up in different clothes arise?" – Coosf Mar 14 at 22:14

As you can see at Grande dizionario della lingua italiana, in the first attested uses of "investire" this verb had the following meanings:

Provvedere, dotare, munire, corredare, for­nire; mettere in possesso, mettere a parte (di beni sia materiali sia spirituali)


Immettere qualcuno, mediante un atto solenne, nel possesso di un feudo

That is, to provide someone with a material or spiritual good.

In these first uses of Italian language, the idea of providing someone with a certain good was often expressed with a figurative usage of verbs meaning dressing someone. To give you some examples, Dante Alighieri uses the verb "ammantare", which, according to Treccani dictionary means

Avvolgere, ricoprire con un manto; per estens., rivestire in genere

(i.e., "to dress")

in such figurative way in these verses:

un corollario voglio che t’ammanti (Paradiso VIII, 128)

col dire e con la luce che mi ammanta (Paradiso XXI, 66)

In this other instance, Dante uses "addornare" (nowadays spelled "adornare"), that is the verb that you could use to express the idea of dressing someone with jewels or elegant clothes:

Di reverenza il viso e li atti addorna (Purgatorio XII, 82).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.