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Windfall Taxes | English Lesson

Nov 10, 2022

In this lesson, we will look at the language surrounding profit spikes and windfall taxes.

Okay, you understand what “profit” means and you probably know that “spike” is a verb used to describe a sudden rise, a sudden increase, but what about windfall? And, by extension, windfall taxes?

To understand the word ‘windfall’, it’s useful to break it into two parts ‘wind’ and ‘fall’. The wind is the natural movement of air. Wind blows. If the wind blows hard enough, it can make things fall.

For example, the word windfall –– which was first used back in the fifteenth century –– referred to the fruit that blew off the trees in a strong wind, and when that fruit blew off the trees, it would just lie in the ground, waiting to be picked up. Picking up that fruit was an easy victory for anybody who found it. After all, they wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of picking the fruit off of the trees. Nope. There it was, just waiting to be picked up off the ground. Over time, ‘windfall’ came to describe a time of unexpected good fortune.

Now look at this headline dated November 1st, 2022, and published on the BBC news site.

BP Profit Jump Sparks Calls for Bigger Windfall Tax

Let’s take a minute to deconstruct this headline to understand the meaning and hopefully pick up some new English vocabulary.

In the first place, BP is a British multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London, England. It is one of the largest companies in the world measured by revenues and profits.

And the ‘profit jump’ clearly means that BP has experienced a sudden increase in profit. No surprise there, given the recent high oil prices in the world. ‘BP profit jump’ is the subject of this sentence.

So the ‘BP profit jump’ has ‘sparked a call’. Aha.. ‘spark’. That might be a new word for you. It is being used as a verb here, but ‘spark’ is also a noun. A spark is a small fiery particle created by a fire, of produced when two hard surfaces, like rock or metal, hit one another. They spark, and you can watch the sparks fly!

Well, we can also use sparks to light a fire, so that’s how I want you to understand it here: ‘to spark’ is ‘to ignite’.  In old weapons, like muskets and cannons, sparks would ignite the gunpowder. So, ‘spark’ is to trigger. To initiate.

So, getting back to the headline ‘BP Profit Jump Sparks Calls for Bigger Windfall Tax’, we can now understand that the big jump in profits has triggered calls, or in other words, has provoked requests, for a ‘windfall tax’. Or in other words, a tax on ‘windfall’ profits.

Read it again: BP Profit Jump Sparks Calls for Bigger Windfall Tax

Among other things, the writer of the article adds: “All the big oil firms, including Total and Exxon Mobil, have announced bumper profits in the past week.”

That’s another fun word for you to learn. ‘Bumper’. ‘Bumper’ is a way to say ‘unusually large’.

For example, you will also often see the word ‘bumper’ used in the context of agriculture, for instance, a ‘bumper crop’ refers to a particularly large harvest.

Bumper’ and in this case ‘bumper profits’.

So, friends, try to remember these new words. You could even take a few moments now and build a few model sentences in your mind. This will help your retention.

Vocabulary Review

  • To spark
  • Windfall (Wind/Fall): a sudden unexpected good fortune.
    • The profit jump sparked calls for a windfall tax.
  • Bumper: unusually large.
    • Oil companies have experience bumper profits this year, thanks to the high price of petroleum.


I will be back soon with another lesson. If you enjoyed this one and want to further improve your vocabulary in an economic context, check out our lesson on A Sudden Increase in the Price of Oil and Gas.

And, remember, you can reach out to me here if you have any requests for future English lesson topics. I’d love to connect with you.


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