Ill-gotten gains

Ill-gotten gains is an idiom that is hundreds of years old. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom ill-gotten gains, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Ill-gotten gains is a phrase that means something obtained illegally, immorally, or in an unfair way. For instance, the money a robber obtains from a bank heist is ill-gotten gains. The money a politician obtains through bribery is ill-gotten gains. The expression ill-gotten to mean in obtained in an illegal, immoral, or unfair way appeared in the 1600s; by the 1700s ill was used as a prefix in words such as ill-fated and ill-informed. Ill-gotten gains appeared in the 1800s and is still a popular idiom today.


As the spotlight turns on the failure of authorities to seize the $30 million the Obeids secured from a corrupt coal tender, the Herald can reveal that some of those ill-gotten gains were used to expand the family’s vast property interests, now worth millions and spanning the globe. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Since the SEC Whistleblower Program’s inception, enforcement matters brought using information from meritorious whistleblowers have resulted in orders for nearly $5 billion in total monetary sanctions, including more than $3.1 billion in disgorgement of ill-gotten gains and interest, of which more than $1.3 billion has been, or is scheduled to be, returned to harmed investors. (National Law Review)

Police carried out large-scale raids in 25 German cities Wednesday, after a chance discovery last year put investigators on the trail of a money-laundering network alleged to have funneled millions in ill-gotten gains abroad. (U.S. News & World Report)

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