Earmark (noun) Originally a cut or mark in the ear of sheep and cattle, serving as a sign of ownership; first recorded 1577 in figurative sense; in modernity, the term earmark has come to mean something set aside for a specific purpose, usually money, but it can be time (I will earmark 15 minutes a day to reflect on my daily
With regard to earmarks and financial issues, the concept is to set aside funds for a special purpose. In an education bill for instance, specific funds may be set aside for the stated goal of replacing the roof of a certain school, or in a transportation bill, specific dollars are included to guarantee that railroad crossings in rural areas are upgraded for safety issues.
Like anything else, earmarks can be exploited and abused. Anyone who has seen a new traffic light installed, upgrades to their emergency response system (911), or new fire trucks purchased for their community with money from the Federal Government has benefitted from earmarks.