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In European languages the literal meaning of the verb that is used to describe earning money varies from language to language.
Some examples:
British: earn money (money is something you harvest)

American: make money (money is something you create)

German: Geld verdienen (literal: deserve money)
(money is something you are entitled to have because of your work)

Spanish: ganar dinero (literal: win money)
(money comes with luck)

French: gagner de l'argent (literal: win money)
(money comes with luck)

What is the most appropriate literal translation of 赚钱 to English in that sense?

  • I downvoted your question because you're basing it on examples that don't actually show what you say they show. »Make money« is colloquial, and it also works in the UK. »Earn money« also works in the US. Spanish and French »win money«: »win« has several meanings and isn't necessarily connected to luck. – Philipp Jul 20 '18 at 16:37
  • Philipp it is true that earn and make are both used and understood in both the UK and US still one is typical American one typical British English (much like vacation vs holiday, people understand either) and definitely ganar or gagner can be used in the sense of the English word gain. Nonetheless it is not possible to use the word gain in the sense of winning a game of poker, which is the case for example at the Spanish word ganar. Clearly my question empathised a possible use of the word that loses it's validity in the particular retranslation to English. – user124950 Jul 20 '18 at 16:53
  • I have no intend to derive to any conclusions about the natural speakers of a particular language based on the examples here. I just find it curios that such a break of the verb associated to money is happening in the very similar European languages. That's why I am collecting these verbs. – user124950 Jul 20 '18 at 16:54
  • Of course gagner/ganar/guanhar/guanyar/guadagnare derives from Germanic *waiþanjaną, to chase (not Latin), which is somewhat similar in evolution to the Min Chinese 趁钱 (Min Dong: tíng-*cièng, Min Nan: thàn-chîⁿ). – Michaelyus Jul 24 '18 at 12:25
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There are two ways of answering this question:

  1. Look at early meanings of 賺 as the individual character
  2. Look at early meanings of 賺錢 as the whole phrase

The character 賺 (Middle Chinese: /ɖˠɛmH/ , Old Chinese: /*r'eːms/) may have originally represented a word which eventually diverged into several other characters (詀, 譧), all with the related meaning crooked/improper/dishonest words. In this sense, 賺 may have been originally extended from a meaning to gain a profit by swindling somebody else. We can see the original meaning resurfacing somewhat in several quotes in classical texts:

宋 徐鉉《稽神錄拾遺・教坊樂人子》:“訝,賺矣!此辟穀藥也。”

元 宋遠《意難忘》詞:“元經摧意氣,丹鼎賺英雄。”

Here, 賺 means to mislead or more generally have a negative impact on.

The other common earlier meaning of 賺 was to gain/acquire/win (a profit, resources, etc). This is the most direct meaning to 賺錢, which was originally a vernacular word.

Based on the above, you can either take

  1. 賺 on etymology, in which case you can interpret it to mean to gain a profit off of someone else by cheating them. However, I think this interpretation is inappropriate, because by the time 賺錢 appears as a complete, set phrase,

  2. 賺 just overwhelmingly meant to gain/acquire/win, so the literal meaning of 賺錢 should really be taken as to gain/acquire/win money/wealth.

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赚钱 has multiple context in mandarin.

工作赚钱 ; work for living

做生意赚钱 : making/earning a living from the trade

这生意很赚钱 : the business is profitable

买一送二, 这次赚了 : buy 1 free 2, what a gain.

So which context you are referring to ?

There are few more meaning as describe by zdnet on , which carry specially meaning in various literature.

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  • What means the sign 赚 on it's own? – user124950 Jul 20 '18 at 14:49
  • 赚 is a verb meaning "gain, get,etc" with certain collocations, see above, – user6065 Jul 20 '18 at 15:01
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赚[zhuàn]
verb.
1. (获得利润) make a profit; gain; profit:
a profitable business; a paying proposition [concern]; 赚钱生意
He gained 500 dollars by this deal. 靠这笔交易他赚了5百美元。
2. (挣钱) earn:
earn a lot of money; 赚不少钱
money earned by hard work; 辛勤工作赚来的钱

noun.
(利润) profit

赚[zuàn]
verb.
(骗人) deceive; hoax; fool; hoodwink; kid
以上来源于《新汉英大辞典》

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What is the most appropriate literal translation of 赚钱 to English in that sense?

The verb 賺 + the object 錢 = 賺錢

錢 means 'earn money' (by working or trading)

It requires effort and with legitimate means to qualified the money you get as 'earned'(賺得/ 賺到), which mean winning money in gambling is not 賺錢 but 贏錢; Money you gain by begging, stealing or picking up on the ground is not 'earned'

賺錢/ 賺錢的 can also be an adjective 'profitable' for business as in 賺錢(的)生意 (profitable business);賺錢(的)买卖 (profitable trade)

American: make money (money is something you create)

you can 'make money' (賺錢) by running a convenience store; but you can also 'make money' (生財) on a gambling table.

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