"gratuitous" = 'free' ?

Alison Murie sagehen7470 at ATT.NET
Fri Apr 17 15:20:34 UTC 2009

On Apr 17, 2009, at 11:04 AM, Mark Mandel wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Mark Mandel <thnidu at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "gratuitous" = 'free' ?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In a number of places I'm finding "gratuitous" used for 'free of
> charge'. F.  "gratuit" can mean either 'free of charge' or
> 'gratuitous, unwarranted'. AFAIK, E. "gratuitous" is used almost
> exclusively in the second sense, usually modifying a noun such as
> "insult" or "offense", and I thought the author was mistakenly using
> it in the first sense as well by analogy with F. But to my surprise I
> found that both MW and OED's online editions give 'free of charge' as
> the first definition, with no restriction of register or period. OED's
> quotations don't go past 1876 for any sense.
> ............
> Is my impression correct, or am I just overlooking or missing fairly
> widespread use of the sense 'free of charge'?
> --
> Mark Mandel
Now that you mention it, it does seem to have fallen out of common
usage, but it was familiar enough to me in my childhood. What seems
odd is how "gratuity" fits into this frame. (Freely given, though

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