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Origin of the Word ‘Freelance’

A conversation with a friend last night prompted me to write this post. While talking about writing and freelancing, she jokingly asked me if freelancing meant “lancing freely”. When I said yes, she thought I was joking, too, when in fact I wasn’t. Do you know the origin of the word “freelance”?

The word first appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe in 1819:

I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.

As you can see the word was originally two words – free and lance. Sir Walter Scott coined the words to mean mercenary soldiers; that is, free men who used their skills with lances for any person who hired them. Hence, the words free and lance. The people who hired the free lances were generally noblemen or feudal lords who needed extra hands to fight for land or property.

Ever since the term appeared in the novel, free lances began to be used for mercenary soldiers. Gradually the two words became one word – freelance – and was used only as a noun. It wasn’t till the early twentieth century that the word became a verb as well. How the word came to mean a person who sells his work or services is not clear, but it wasn’t seen in this sense till about 60-70 years ago.

Do you know how the word freelance changed its meaning? Please share your thoughts here with us.

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One Response

  1. Without knowing exactly I could well imagine that the free lancers came about at times when knights and the such had lancing tournaments and some participants were free of any lord or baron etc. and offered their services to the lords at a going rate participating in their name and winning these events. Something like football players these days who join clubs anywhere in the world and, if successful, helping their new club win titles and cups andthemselves. Hence increasing their “value” and raising the value of the respective club.

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