Word of the Day

liberty

Origin of the word

The noun liberty has its roots in the Latin ‘libertas’. This can refer to political or civil freedom in the sense of being a free person, as defined by ‘the absence of control or restraint’ (3). It can also be used to describe ‘the condition of being allowed to do something, having permission’ (2).

The Old French word ‘liberte’ was used in order to denote ‘free will, freedom’, which is also the meaning carried in the Modern French ‘liberté’. By the late 14th century, the word had the sense of ‘freedom to do as one chooses’ (1).



The meaning of the word liberty was initially confined to individuals; however, by the late 15th century the word was also applied to groups of people and communities, representing being free from ‘autocratic rule’ or ‘despotic and arbitrary control’ (1).

By the middle of the 15th century, liberty meaning ‘unrestrained behaviour’ led to the expression ‘take liberties’, which was in use in the 1620s in the sense of ‘going beyond the limits of conventionally accepted behaviour’ (4).

Related words: liberties, libertarian, liberal, liberating

Examples

There are many famous symbols representing freedom from tyranny:

“‘The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World’ was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is recognised as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886. It was designated as a National Monument in 1924. Employees of the National Park Service have been caring for the colossal copper statue since 1933.” U.S. Department of the Interior. Updated 4th October 2017: National Parks Service. ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ (1).

Sometimes the words liberty or liberties are used in such a way as to have two meanings:

“The 1918 Club is a discussion forum for women, established by Eleanor Rathbone in 1918, that meets regularly in Liverpool. The group created this display working with objects relating to women’s suffrage [the right to vote in political elections] in the Museum of Liverpool’s collections. After viewing the objects and choosing which ones would best illustrate the story, participants then wrote labels to explain why these objects were important and what they tell us about the Liverpool campaign to give women the right to vote.” Museum of Liverpool. 2017: ‘Taking liberties – women’s suffrage in Liverpool’ (2) (4).

Definition

1. the freedom to think or behave in the way that you want and not be controlled by a government or by other people
2. a particular kind of freedom, especially one that you have a legal right to
3. freedom from being kept in prison
4. something that offends someone because you have not asked their permission

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary is an award-winning, one-stop reference for English learners and speakers around the world.

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