Undertakings of the Enterprising Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurial or enterprising: which one are you?

It’s not uncommon for enterprising businessmen and -women to be referred to as entrepreneurs. But are all enterprising people entrepreneurs? And are all entrepreneurs enterprising?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, an entrepreneur is “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”.This agent noun, entrepreneur, neatly sums up an avatar. Bearing the label of entrepreneur is comparable to being identified with a job title, such as electrician, scientist, or writer – or with a behavioural trait, like joker, worrier, or layabout.  

An enterprising person is someone with initiative and resourcefulness. To be enterprising is a personality trait, which is reinforced by the fact that there’s no single noun for an enterprising person. The joker might be a fun-loving person; the worrier an anxious person; the layabout a lazy person.

The entrepreneur is, among other things, an enterprising person.

As far as grammatical function is concerned, the two words are worlds apart. In semantics, they’re very closely related. In terms of etymology, they’re identical twins, separated at birth.


Let’s have a quick look at the French verb, entreprendre:

  • Entreprendre means to undertake.
  • The word is made up of two elements: entre (between) and prendre (to take).
  • Entre derives from the Latin word intrare (between). Prendre is from the Latin prehendere (to grasp).
  • In French, an entrepreneur is someone who undertakes a task – in particular, a contractor or master builder.
  • The past participle of entreprendre is entrepris (feminine form: entreprise).
  • Used as a noun, entreprise is translated as an undertaking or task.

In the late Middle Ages, entrepreneur and enterprise (with entre morphed into the Anglicised enter) were absorbed into Middle English, and they’ve been with us ever since.

The undertaker

Around the same time that entrepreneur and enterprise were entering the English vernacular via the Romance languages, undertaker was joining us via the Germanic route.

The Old Norse word, taka (grasp), was adopted into Anglo Saxon as tacan, meaning to get, take, or capture. The English word under also has Germanic origin and is similar to the German unter and Dutch onder.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to surmise that an undertaker is one who undertakes stuff. But does an undertaker undertake just any stuff? Or something specific?

The undertaker started off as an assistant, or helper, and over the centuries, the word has donned and doffed many other identities, including that of tax collector, businessman, and contractor. In the late 17th century, however, undertaker got the job of serving as a euphemism for funeral director, and we’re still using it today.

Are all entrepreneurs enterprising? Are all enterprising people entrepreneurs?

All entrepreneurs are, by nature, enterprising. If I’m wrong about this, please let me know.

However, not all enterprising people are entrepreneurs. There are so many men and women with talent, ambition, and vision, whose passion and intelligence and diligence will drive them to success. But it’s probably the passion that gets in the way of entrepreneurial behaviour, because the glorious vision of financial gain is overshadowed by the blinding, joyful light of the chosen route.

And what about the undertakers?

Well, there are certainly plenty of enterprising funeral directors, and, although I’ve never come across one, I’m sure there are also some entrepreneurial funeral directors.

Although every one of us undertakes numerous tasks, every day, the only true undertakers, in modern English, are funeral directors.

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