early 15c., "an undertaking," formerly also enterprize, from Old French enterprise "an undertaking," noun use of fem. past participle of entreprendre "undertake, take in hand" (12c.), from entre- "between" (see entre-) + prendre "to take," contraction of prehendere "to catch hold of, seize" (from prae- "before," see pre-, + -hendere, from PIE root *ghend- "to seize, take"). Abstract sense of "adventurous disposition, readiness to undertake challenges, spirit of daring" is from late 15c.
Old English bisignes (Northumbrian) "care, anxiety, occupation," from bisig "careful, anxious, busy, occupied, diligent" (see busy (adj.)) + -ness. The original sense is obsolete, as is the Middle English sense of "state of being much occupied or engaged" (mid-14c.), the latter replaced by busyness. Johnson's dictionary also has busiless "At leisure; without business; unemployed." The modern two-syllable pronunciation is from 17c.
The sense of "a person's work, occupation, that which one does for a livelihood" is recorded late 14c. (in late Old English bisig appears as a noun with the sense "occupation, state of employment"). The sense of "that which is undertaken as a duty" is from late 14c. The meaning "what one is about at the moment" is from 1590s. The sense of "trade, commercial engagements, mercantile pursuits collectively" is attested by 1727, on the notion of "matters which occupy one's time and attention." In 17c. business also could mean "sexual intercourse."
Business card is attested from 1840; business letter from 1766. Business end "the practical or effective part" (of something) is American English, by 1874. Phrase business as usual attested from 1865. To mean business "be intent on serious action" is from 1856. To mind (one's) own business "attend to one's affairs and not meddle with those of others" is from 1620s.
c. 1400, "fortune, chance," shortening of aventure (n.), a variant of adventure (n.); also from Anglo-French venture. Sense of "risky undertaking" first recorded 1560s; meaning "enterprise of a business nature" is recorded from 1580s. Venture capital is attested from 1943.
1828, "manager or promoter of a theatrical production," reborrowing of French entrepreneur "one who undertakes or manages," agent noun from Old French entreprendre "undertake" (see enterprise). The word first crossed the Channel late 15c. (Middle English entreprenour) but did not stay. Meaning "business manager" is from 1852. Related: Entrepreneurship.
"one who organizes public entertainments," 1746, from Italian impresario "operatic manager," literally "undertaker (of a business)," from impresa "undertaking, enterprise, attempt," fem. of impreso, past participle of imprendere "undertake," from Vulgar Latin *imprendere, from assimilated form of Latin in- "into, in, on, onto" (from PIE root *en "in") + Latin prehendere "to grasp" (from prae- "before;" see pre-, + -hendere, from PIE root *ghend- "to seize, take").
"eager to undertake, prompt to attempt," 1610s, present-participle adjective from the verb enterprise (late 15c.), from the noun enterprise. Until mid-19c. (at least in Britain) mostly in a bad sense: "scheming, ambitious, foolhardy." Earlier (1560s) as a verbal noun meaning "action of undertaking."
"enterprise," early 15c., verbal noun from undertake (v.). An Old English word for this was underfangenes.
1708 in a military sense, "engaged on a special enterprise;" 1842 in politics, "of or pertaining to a party or faction;" from partisan (n.).