"-free" goes neutral

Seán Fitzpatrick grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET
Sun Feb 14 19:51:13 UTC 2010


Seán Fitzpatrick
For when Global Warming just isn't silly enough anymore.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Lighter [mailto:wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Saturday, February 13, 2010 12:18 PM
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


"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

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