Excuse my French

There’s a lot of discussion in the free culture movement about the two definitions of “free” that we use to describe our work. Summarized well by Wikipedia, the definitions are often described as:

  1. “Free as in beer”, or gratis, where those using free content or software don’t have to pay any money to do so; and

  2. “Free as in freedom”, or libre, where those using free content or software have the right to make derivative works.

What I find interesting are the suggestions to use the words gratis and libre to make this differentiation clear. The argument is that it’s necessary to borrow these words from French because there aren’t separate words in English that denote these different meanings of freedom.

Whatever flaws the English language may have, however, a stilted vocabulary is not among them. Rather than import more words, why not simply use ones we already have? Specifically, I suggest that free as in beer can be described as costless, and free as in freedom can be described as unencumbered. They’re accurate, unambiguous, and already present in English. Let’s use them!

8 Comments

  1. Comment by Anonymous:

    French?

    Libre y gratis también existen en español.

  2. Comment by Steve Foerster:

    Yes, but since they’re in both languages, and since “Excuse My Spanish” wouldn’t have been as amusing a blog post title, I went the way I did.

  3. Comment by Anonymous:

    “costless” and “unencumbered” are only negations of “cost” and “encumbered”. Why not replacing “free” by “unprisoned” and so on – it reduces the vocabulary an sounds like george orwell’s 1984.

  4. Comment by Steve Foerster:

    They’re ideal because they’re negations of “cost” and “encumbered”. Besides, I don’t share your interest in reducing vocabulary — the world is already becoming far too Orwellian as it is.

  5. Comment by littlebigmarylou:

    Funny how when people think something is French, they try to denigrate it.
    I may be mistaken, but i think other languages do include English terms. Why would English not do it too?

  6. Comment by Steve Foerster:

    French is a beautiful language from which Modern English has appropriated a tremendous number of useful words. My point is that there’s no reason to add even more words to make this particular distinction when we already have English words that do the job.

    As a simplified example, let’s say people are talking about those furry, four-legged beasts who follow people around and bark all day. It’s not anti-French to say that there’s no point in using the word “chien” for those creatures when we already have the perfectly serviceable word “dog”.

    See what I mean?

  7. Comment by Victoria:

    You Americans make such a big deal out of something very simple – borrowing words from other languages. Who cares it’s not english, what counts is that people know what it means (and libre is far more well known then unencumbered) and it is spelled correct accordingly to it’s original language. You might as well start campaigning against the use of the words apartheid and so on.

  8. Comment by Steve Foerster:

    “You Americans”? Goodness! I wasn’t really trying to speak on behalf of three hundred million people!

    Anyway, once again, my point isn’t about English borrowing words from other languages, which isn’t a problem at all. It’s about borrowing more words in this particular instance when the ones we have already suffice.

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