What is the origin of the word "Freelance"?

Posted on Feb 8th, 2011 | Expertise

I’m a freelancer, you’re a freelancer. Why are we freelancers? Where does this silly word come from? It was first coined in 1819 by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe formed the basis of the Robin Hood character as it exists today, and is widely credited with renewing interest in the middle ages amongst 19th Century literary types.

In Ivanhoe, Scott describes Italian and French mercenaries as “freelances”, meaning they were free men who offered their services (in this case, their skill with a lance) to wealth land owners. Similar to the private security firms in operation in Afghanistan and Iraq today, “freelances” basically amounted to private armies, and would fight on their Lord’s behalf against groups loyal to other noblemen. Thankfully this element of freelancing has largely been abolished today.

The term “freelance” was recognised as a verb (he/she freelances) by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1903, and since then has passed into the everyday lexicon as a noun, adjective, and adverb.

So now you know!

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Written by Jon Norris

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