Whether you subscribe to English poet and cleric John Donne, who wrote that “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”, or you better identify with Ringo Starr (of the Beatles fame) who sang that he got by “with a little help from my friends,” the truth is that very few of us – if any – can accomplish great tasks alone. Briefly put, great tasks typically require the contribution of time, money, and action of many people in order to achieve the desired outcome. No matter if you are looking to save the rainforest, contribute to a body of literature, or even contribute to your own financial well-being, if you decide to take an active part, you become today’s word, contributor.
Coming directly from the Anglo-French contributour, our word originated as the Vulgar Latin contribuere, which is a compound word initially comprised of cum tribuere, which means ‘to pay together or allot with’.
The first mention of our word in English comes from 1530, recorded in a parliamentary act called the Pardon to Clergy Act in England during the time of the English Reformation, stating that: “They..shall not be contributors nor charged to the payment of the said sum.” While the word has always maintained a generalized usage, Samuel Johnson, in a 1750 edition of his periodical, The Rambler, was the first to use it in the strict sense of contributing literary articles, writing that: “Let therefore the next friendly contributor..observe the cautions of Swift, and write secretly in his own chamber.”
Clearly, the idea of being a contributor in some way is nothing new, with the concept essentially being the basis for social living and cultural development and the word itself being used for almost 500 years; however, thanks to the power of technology and ease of communication, it is now easier than ever before to be a contributor to the causes you favour. As of 2017, the concept of crowdfunding has raised over USD 34 billion for various causes globally, USD 25 billion in peer-to-peer lending, added USD 65 billion to the global economy, expanded to over 190 US-based platforms, and created more than 270,000 jobs.
Possibly aside from these more ethical and improvement-minded projects, we are also beginning to see the concept driving areas such as cryptocurrencies and political campaigns – where Bernie Sanders (2016 U.S. presidential candidate) was able to secure a robust 4 million donations, averaging USD 27 each, by March of the election year.