"-free" goes neutral

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Feb 13 21:49:24 UTC 2010

At 4:20 PM -0500 2/13/10, Wilson Gray wrote:
>"-Free" might have have gone that way a lot earlier, if the Nazi
>_Judenrein_, roughly, "cleaned, cleared  of Jews," hadn't been given
>the space-saving and peppier translation, "Jew-free," by some random

Brings to mind how Milosevic and friends a while back cast a whole
new light on "cleansing".


>On Sat, Feb 13, 2010 at 12:17 PM, Jonathan Lighter
><wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Subject:      "-free" goes neutral
>>  We've all bought products that promise to get other products "stain-free,"
>>  "odor-free," "germ-free," "gunk-free," etc.  "-Free" implies that something
>>  quite undesirable has been removed.  You are now "free of" that obviously
>>  undesirable thing.
>>  Thirty or so ago years ago, a freshman turned in a theme about racism. In it
>>  he used the phrases "Jew-free" and "black-free."  I decided I needed to have
>>  a little chat with the lad.
>>  As it turned out - and it was pretty clear from his theme - he had not meant
>>  to imply that being "Jew-" or "black-free" was a good thing. In fact, the
>>  opposite. However, his sense of language was so limited that he had not
>>  perceived what (I assume) we do, that "-free" means "good riddance."
>>  Last night CNN (n.b., not Fox) reported that Patrick Kennedy would not seek
>>  reelection. The panel at the bottom of the screen read "Congress to be
>>  Kennedy-free."  The anchor explained that his retirement would mean "the
>>  first Kennedy-free Congress in fifty years."
>>  Now if we may rise above partisan politics for a moment, I submit that CNN
>>  did not intend to suggest "good riddance" when it spoke of a "Kennedy-free
>>  Congress" any more than that student (now old enough to be some journalist's
>>  father) was a neo-Nazi.
>>  It meant "a Congress without a Kennedy."
>>  Google summons up too many "Kennedy-free" hits to examine, but wherever they
>>  come from, and whatever they mean, CNN must think the affix is neutrally
>>  descriptive.
>>  JL
>>  --
>>  "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"--a strange complaint to
>come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>-Mark Twain
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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