"gratuitous" = 'free' ?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Apr 17 15:49:39 UTC 2009

On Fri, Apr 17, 2009 at 11:42 AM, Baker, John <JMB at stradley.com> wrote:
>        It's still occasionally used, but not common.  In April 2009
> legal opinions to date, "gratuitous" was used 28 times, of which 7
> examples meant "for free."  For various reasons, legal usage is likely
> to disproportionately emphasize the "for free" sense.  I also looked at
> 40 recent examples in edited news sources.  Of these, 39 meant
> "unwarranted" and one, a legal usage, meant "for free."

One can also Google up legal uses by searching with the right collocates, e.g.:

"gratuitous agency|allowance|bailment|contract|service|undertaking"

In theological contexts, "gratuitous evil/suffering" fits the "unwarranted"
sense, while "gratuitous love/grace" fits the "freely given" sense.

--Ben Zimmer

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

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