freelance

Freelancing is a form of self-employment, where one hires out one’s services instead of being employed on a permanent basis. Many believe this term dates to the Middle Ages, referring to a knight who served as a mercenary, as opposed to pledging fealty to a single lord. While this is indeed the metaphor underlying the term, freelance only dates to the early 19th century and is applied anachronistically to medieval times. From Sir Walter Scott’s 1820 Ivanhoe:

I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances.

Figurative use, referring to something other than knights, dates to 1864. From The Standard of 16 April of that year:

They may be Free Lances in Parliament so long as the guerilla career suits them.

The verb and gerund are from the early 20th century. From Enoch Arnold Bennett’s 1903 The Truth About The Author:

What in Fleet Street is called “free-lancing.”

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

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