On Exploitation, OED-Style
Ian asked about the history of exploit and exploitation according to the Oxford English Dictionary a couple of days ago. I have another post in the works for today as well, but for now, here they are:
1. To accomplish, achieve, execute, perform; to fight (a battle). Obs.
2. a. refl. To apply, exert oneself. Cf. OFr. s'exploiter. Obs.
b. intr. To act with effect; to get on, prosper, speed. Also in impers. pass. Obs.
3. trans. ? To cause to succeed, prosper. Obs.
It gets interesting in the 1800s. Check out what happens . . .
4. To ‘work’ (a mine, etc.); to turn to industrial account (natural resources). b. transf. To utilize for one's own ends, treat selfishly as mere workable material (persons, etc.); to ‘make capital out of’.
1838 New Monthly Mag. LIII. 306 The Humbughausens..have exploited the obscure (to use a French phrase where we have no proper equivalent) with..profit. 1847 MRS. CARLYLE Lett. II. 25 Exploiting that poor girl for their idle purposes of curiosity. 1865 E. ARNOLD in Reader No. 115. 282/1 In exploiting mineral resources. 1878 Print. Trades Jrnl. XXIII. 7 The great German naturalist..finds himself coolly exploited by a Paris publisher. 1888 Westm. Rev. July 58 An association of capitalist shareholders, exploiting their wage-paid labourers. 1890 Nature 6 Feb. 313 European exiles..were then..exploiting the riches of the East.
It makes sense, then, that around the same time (who knows about the oral history between the lines and what the exact dates were in spoken English), exploitation shows up, and it means . . .
1. The action of exploiting or turning to account; productive working or profitable management (of mines, cattle, etc.). Also, an instance of this.1803 W. TAYLOR in Ann. Rev. I. 362 Similar proofs of the deficient commercial exploitation of these colonies perpetually occur. 1825 New Monthly Mag. XIII. 588 Clear evidence of success, wanting to all other ‘exploitations’ (excuse the gallicism). 1836 Blackw. Mag. XL. 766 What is to be the next exploitation of genius? Travels? 1881 P. GEDDES in Nature No. 622. 534 The second..inquires whether the exploitation of plants or animals be more profitable in the given society. 1885 A. J. EVANS in Archaeol. XLIX. 8 Cities..owed their rise..to the exploitation of the mineral wealth of the province.b. The action of turning to account for selfish purposes, using for one's own profit.[1844 M. HENNELL Social Syst. 108 Slavery, the use of man by man (exploitation) was the reigning principle of society in its first stages.] 1857 O. A. BROWNSON Convert Wks. V. 116 A poor man..becoming rich by trade, speculation, or the successful exploitation of labour. 1868 Pall Mall G. No. 1017. 1827/2 The exploitation of the credulous public. 1877 MRS. OLIPHANT Makers Flor. ix. 225 Their whole existence [was] an exploitation of the helpless people they reigned over. 1887 L. OLIPHANT Fashionable Philos. 33 The exploitation and subjugation of Eastern countries.2. The action of reconnoitring.1871 Daily News 18 Sept., It surely indicated lax exploitation that the advance column should have blindly butted its head against this broken bridge.
I have no idea where that last one came from, but you can see the evolution of the concept from to cause to prosper (in at least one instance) to specifically using another to prosper/profit.