Ellen Meiksins Wood wrote in The Origins of Capitalism:

The word ‘improve’ itself, in its original meaning, did not mean just ‘make better’ in a general sense but literally meant to do something for monetary profit, especially to cultivate land for profit… By the seventeenth century, the word ‘improver’ was firmly fixed in the language to refer to someone who rendered land productive and profitable, especially by enclosing it or reclaiming waste.

I’m not sure it’s the original one, but this meaning of improve – “to put to profitable use” – is noted both in the modern Merriam-Webster and in the first edition of Webster’s dictionary (1828). However, to my surprise, I could not find it in Johnson’s 1755 dictionary. Odd – it’s how Isaac Watts used it in his much-ridiculed hymn (1715) on sloth and industry. Obviously, the bee is using every daylight hour to its advantage, not trying to make it better. Lewis Carroll’s parody plays on both principal senses of improve.

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