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From private +‎ -eer, probably after volunteer.



privateer ‎(plural privateers)

  1. (now historical) A privately owned warship that had official sanction to attack enemy ships and take possession of their cargo. [from 17th c.]
  2. (now historical) An officer or any other member of the crew of such a ship. [from 17th c.]
    • (Can we date this quote?) Macaulay
      Kidd soon threw off the character of a privateer and became a pirate.
  3. (Can we verify(+) this sense?) An unethical individual or group acting covertly with enabling, usually bribed, accomplices inside government to destroy a government’s ability to carry out some aspect of its moral mission of protection and empowerment, by transferring critical moral functions along with public funds. [from 17th c.]
  4. An advocate or beneficiary of privatization of a government service or activity.
    • 1985, British Columbia. Forensic Psychiatric Services Commission, Summary of Proceedings, page 421:
      This is a major victory, not only for CUPW because it will deter profit-hungry privateers from taking work away from CUPW members, but also because it gives union protection to those employed by the privateers.
    • 2001, George Beam, Quality Public Management: What it is and how it Can be Improved and []:
      Privateers, such as Osborne and Gaebler, promise that good competition will not become bad — will not become cutthroat competition — if good competition is "carefully structured and managed;"
    • 2012, David A. McDonald, ‎Greg Ruiters, Alternatives to Privatization: Public Options for Essential Services:
      For example, when water workers leader Abelardo de Oliveira Filho says, [] investigations initiated by PSI in carrying out the mandate their members gave them to resist the privatization of water, to look into how the privateers worked
    • 2013, Peter Downs, Schoolhouse Shams: Myths and Misinformation in School Reform:
      Privatization advocates, or “privateers,” peddle the simple message that privatization is always good.
  5. (motor racing, chiefly Canada, US) A private individual entrant into a race or competition who does not have the backing of a large, professional team. [from 20th c.]


See also[edit]


privateer ‎(third-person singular simple present privateers, present participle privateering, simple past and past participle privateered)

  1. To function under official sanction permitting attacks on enemy shipping and seizing ship and cargo; to engage in government-sponsored piracy. [from 17th c.]
  2. (Can we verify(+) this sense?) To undermine government’s moral mission to care for its citizens and to covertly steal public funds.
  3. To advocate or benefit from privatization of government services.
    • 1942, Valdimer Orlando Key, Politics, parties and pressure groups, page 95:
      The principle of collective bargaining has been a basic point of dispute; it infringes, as Perlman pointed out, the privileges associated with private ownership and management of property. [] These so-called charters were simply a license given to shady elements to privateer against the strong and growing unions.
    • 1995, Review of agricultural policies: Poland, page 75:
      The objective of the privatisation law of July 1990 was to achieve an ownership structure similar to that in western Europe within five years, with approximately half of state-owned assets to be privateered in the first three years.
    • 2004, Harvard Political Review, volume 31, page 31:
      They are generally kept in "detention centers" in the Australian desert, or on islands in international waters privateered by the government. These are operated by private security firms, which are not subject to international agreements.