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Borrowed from Latin mercēnārius (hired for money), from mercēs (reward, wages, price).



mercenary (plural mercenaries)

  1. (archaic) One motivated by gain, especially monetary.
    • 1753, Alexander Pope, edited by William Warburton, The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq: Satires, &c[1], page 22:
      J. Argyrofylus, a mercenary Greek, who came to teach school in Italy, after the sacking of Constantinople by the Turks, used to maintain that Cicero understood neither Philosophy nor Greek
    • 1811, William Giles, The guide to domestic happiness, 9th edition:
      Such a man emphatically deserves the name of fortune-hunter—a wretch as detestable in society, as destructive of domestic happiness! And if, when marriages are consummated on such plans, there be afterwards between the parties the least appearance of regard, and the common forms of decorum, it is more than can reasonably be expected, and infinitely more than such mercenaries deserve.
    • 1826, Sholto and Reuben Percy, Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery, Mont Benger, Title The Percy Anecdotes: Original and Select, volume 1:
      HOSPITAL NUNS./ Louis XVI. wishing to improve the state of the hospitals in France, sent a member of the Academy of Sciences to England, to enquire into the manner in which such establishments were conducted there. The commissioner praised them; but remarked, that two things were wanting; the zeal of the French parochial clergy, and the charity of the hospital nuns. "We have found, by sorrowful experience," said M. Portalis, that mercenaries, without any motive of feeling to attach them constantly to their duty, can never supply the place of persons animated by a spirit of religion,
    • 1830, The Female's Encyclopaedia of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge[2], page 404:
      In the higher ranks of life especially, it is, unhappily, a very common practice to commit to hired mercenaries, that important duty which nature at once commands and enables the mother to perform; that of suckling her infant.
    • 1831, James Lanigan (bp. of Ossory.), Catechetical Conference on the Holy Eucharist[3], page 134:
      For that is the characteristic of a mercenary, who acts through interest, rather than of an affectionate child who acts through love. There is a great difference, say they, between the service of a slave, the service of a mercenary or hireling, and the service of a child.
  2. A person employed to fight in an armed conflict who is not a member of the state or military group for which they are fighting and whose primary motivation is private gain.
    • 1781, Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire[4], volume 3:
      He exhorts the emperor to revive the courage of his subjects by the example of manly virtue; to banish luxury from the court and from the camp; to substitute in the place of the Barbarian mercenaries, an army of men interested in the defence of their laws and of their property
    • 2004, Matthew Trundle, Greek Mercenaries: From the Late Archaic Period to Alexander[5]:
      If a mercenary died, that was one fewer man to pay. Mercenaries were an efficient way to run a military campaign especially in view of the employer's ability to hire and fire when and if the situation demanded
    • 2005, Karl Arthur, The Calling[6], page 62:
      The combat fatigues worn by the vehicle personnel did not appear to be standard military issue, more similar to what you would expect mercenaries to wear. Mercenaries, loyal to nothing except themselves and their off-shore bank accounts.
  3. (figuratively) One hired to engage in a figurative battle, as a corporate takeover, a lawsuit, or a political campaign.




See also[edit]

  • (person employed to fight): PMC (private military contractor)


mercenary (comparative more mercenary, superlative most mercenary)

  1. Motivated by private gain.



See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]