Bonus as a dirty little word

The word ‘bonus’ used to have such positive connotations. As most people understand it, it refers to something given or paid over and above what is due – a nice little extra, a financial thank you or a congratulation in cash.

The Oxford English Dictionary sets out a delicious definition of bonus as “a boon or gift over and above what is normally due as remuneration to the receiver, and which is therefore something wholly ‘to the good’.” This last phrase refers to the Latin roots of the word – bonus derives from the Latin word bonum meaning a ‘good thing’.

The meaning has become somewhat tainted in recent years. Bankers’ bonuses, bonuses for underperforming executives and bonuses for public sector managers have all received varying degrees of press and public opprobrium.

Maybe this means that the word is reverting to one of its earlier meanings. As well as referencing those innocent ad-hoc payments for good performance, bonus was also used to refer to payments to encourage any type of performance and as a euphemism for a bribe. Should bonus now refer to routine payments made to induce work from reluctant employees?