"gratuitous" = 'free' ?

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Fri Apr 17 15:29:35 UTC 2009

On Apr 17, 2009, at 11:20, Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at ATT.NET> wrote:

> On Apr 17, 2009, at 11:04 AM, Mark Mandel wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Mark Mandel <thnidu at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      "gratuitous" = 'free' ?
>> ---
>> ---
>> ---
>> ---
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>> 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
> uncalled-for?)
> AM

Emailing from a train, with access to my computer but not the
Internet, to note that the original OED entry had of course not been
revised, hence the lack of quotes post the 1870s. But we do have a few
examples of the 'free' sense in our files from the 1990s and later, so
it's not obsolete.

Too lazy to type them on this phone, but presumably Ben will have
supplied a bunch of cites by the time I've sent this.

Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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