make a killing


make a killing (idiom)
/meɪk ə ˈkɪlɪŋ/


  • to earn a lot of money in a short time and with little effort.
  • to achieve great financial success quickly.
  • to make a large profit very quickly and easily.
  • if you say that someone has made a killing, you mean they have made a large profit very quickly and easily.
  • to make a lot of money very quickly.

Example Sentences

  1. If the stock prices surge as predicted, you could make a killing by investing now.
  2. She made a killing by investing in technology stocks right before the market surged.
  3. They made a killing when they sold their startup to a major corporation.
  4. He made a killing by flipping houses in a booming real estate market.
  5. The company made a killing on Black Friday with their huge sales discounts.
  6. Jane made a killing selling handmade crafts online during the holiday season.

Origin and History

“Make a killing” is an idiom with roots deeply embedded in the concepts of hunting, gambling, and financial speculation. And it is a widely used idiom that signifies achieving substantial financial success quickly and effortlessly. Despite its common usage, the exact origins of this expression are somewhat ambiguous, with several theories suggesting different roots. Here, we explore the primary theories and historical contexts associated with the phrase.

Gambling and Early Financial Ventures

One prominent theory suggests that “make a killing” originated in the world of gambling. In the early days of horse racing and other betting activities, a gambler who won a significant amount of money quickly and with little effort was said to have “made a killing.” This usage likely stems from the notion of a hunter killing a large game animal, thus securing a substantial reward with a single, decisive action.

Historical Usage in Hunting

The phrase also has historical ties to hunting, particularly in the context of American bison hunters. In the 19th century, hunters who successfully killed a large number of buffalo in a short period were described as having “made a killing.” This literal sense of the phrase highlights the idea of gaining a significant bounty through a successful hunt.

Financial Markets and Investments

Another significant context for the phrase is the financial markets. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the expression “make a killing” was used to describe rapid and substantial profits made in stock trading and other investments. The phrase became synonymous with achieving a large profit from a single, advantageous financial move, akin to the success of a hunter or gambler.

Earliest Printed Records

The earliest printed record of the phrase appears in an 1886 context, as noted in the Online Etymology Dictionary:

“Meaning ‘a large profit’ is first attested in American English slang from 1886.”

This citation underscores the phrase’s association with sudden financial gain from chance or speculative ventures and hints that the idiom originated and became popular during the late 1800s.

Later, on April 4, 1888, a newspaper, The Sonoma County Tribune (Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California), featured the idiom in reference to a man who had won a substantial amount of money in the Louisiana state lottery. It is believed to be the oldest printed record of the idiom used in everyday life. The specific snippet from the record reads:

“As some doubts were expressed in regard to Fred Jarvis, of Empire, getting $15,000 in The Louisiana Slate Lottery drawing of January 1Oth, our reporter visited him last week and obtained positive evidence of the fact.

Mr. Jarvis also informed him, that The Louisiana State Lottery Company, immediately on receipt of the winning coupon, together with his orders relative to the forwarding of the amount won, placed it in the hands of Welly, Fargo & Co., as directed, and no trouble whatever was experienced by him in collecting it.

He further stated that he had been investing small sums in the drawings for some time past, and has always been lucky enough to draw something each time.

Here on the bay where Mr. Jarvis is well known as one of our most respected and enterprising citizens, nothing need be said in regard to him; but as many throughout the county, and in the adjoining counties, would like to know something relative to the man who was fortunate enough to ‘make a killing,’ we give a brief outline of him since his advent on the bay.”


  1. rake in the dough
  2. hit the jackpot
  3. strike it rich

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