To “make a killing” means to make a large (and usually quick) profit. “Make a killing” has been cited in print since at least 1887, when it was used in horseracing.
The saying “make a living, not a killing” has been cited in print since at least 1959.
Wiktionary: make a killing
to make a killing
1.(idiomatic) To win or earn a large amount of money
The Free Dictionary
make a killing
Fig. to have a great success, especially in making money.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
By Jonathon Green
make a killing v. (also make a cleaning, make a kill) [late 19C+] (orig. US) to make a profit by gambling, whether at the races, on the stock market, in a casino etc.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
A large profit; a quick and profitable success in business, etc. slang (orig. U.S.).
1888 Texas Siftings 24 Mar. 13/2 Fred Jarvis‥getting $15,000 in The Louisiana State Lottery drawing.‥ Many‥would like to know something relative to the man who was fortunate enough to ‘make a killing’.
1912 T. Dreiser Financier xxx. 340 Railroad securities‥were considered weak under the present circumstances, and a great killing was expected.
1938 ‘N. Shute’ Ruined City i. 11 I’m a banker, of course. I don’t take tips, and I don’t make any great killings, but in my quiet way I get along all right.
7 August 1887, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, “Turf,” pg. 6, col. 1:
Of course he didn’t win. But further down on the circuit, when the times are right, the shrewd ones will make “a killing.”
Saddle and Mocassin
By Francis Francis
London: Chapman and Hall
Are we going to ‘make a killing,’ or to buy a ranch, or only to steal some cattle? And what’s the matter with our stopping here, and living comfortably, until you get back?
10 May 1888, New York (NY) Times, “Kentucky’s Derby.” pg. 3:
He has been running second or unplaced in a number of races of late, but there is good reason for thinking this has been done for the purpose of depreciating his stock in the Derby and affording his owners a chance to make a “killing” on the great Kentucky event.
New York City • Banking/Finance/Insurance • (0) Comments • Tuesday, October 25, 2011 • Permalink