"gratuitous" = 'free' ?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Apr 17 17:40:44 UTC 2009

At 11:42 AM -0400 4/17/09, Baker, John 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."
>John Baker

Has anyone in this thread mentioned "gratis"?  Perhaps
speakers/writers are thinking of "gratis"  for 'free' but transform
it into a more adjective-appropriate form, merging it with the
already existing (albeit with a different meaning) "gratuitous".


>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
>Of Mark Mandel
>Sent: Friday, April 17, 2009 11:05 AM
>Subject: "gratuitous" = 'free' ?
>Does "gratuitous" still ever mean 'free (of charge)'?
>I'm looking through a co-worker's lexicon of a little-known language
>that is spoken in a former French colony, where French is therefore
>official. The author, a native speaker of the target language, uses
>French and English as the languages of translation. I'm finding many
>errors or apparent errors in the English glosses that are based on faux
>amis, i.e. use of an English word that was originally borrowed from
>French, but which now does not mean the same as the current French word.
>(I've studied French, and I read it reasonably well, but I'm using
>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'?
>1 a: given unearned or without recompense b: not involving a return
>benefit, compensation, or consideration c: costing nothing : free2:
>not called for by the circumstances : unwarranted <gratuitous
>insolence> <a gratuitous assumption>
>     1. Freely bestowed or obtained; granted without claim or merit;
>provided without payment or return; costing nothing to the recipient;
>     2. Done, made, adopted, or assumed without any good ground or
>reason; not required or warranted by the circumstances of the case;
>uncalled-for; unjustifiable.
>     b. Of the agent: Performing the action implied without reason or
>Mark Mandel
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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