It is an interesting process watching how the meaning of words can change before your eyes. We live in a “what’s in it for me?” society, and somehow this causes some seemingly solid words to become insubstantial and malleable. They no longer are able to hold onto their intended meanings, until over time the meaning actually changes. For instance, the word free. There are multiple dictionary definitions of this word, but all are related to the concept of “without constraints”. What the constraints are depends on the specific subject that is being discussed. When it comes to money free theoretically means “without cost”. Every where we see, free this or free that to entice us to buy something, or do something. But if we need to buy something or do something in order to get the free thing, how is that “without cost”? One of my favorites is the free signup for a website. We see this and are given the idea that the website itself is “without cost”. And while technically they are not lying when they say the signup is free, that is all that has no cost. The action of signing up costs you nothing. However if you want to actually use the site…that’s a different story.
Another example of how free is changing right before our eyes. We live in a free country. Which means we can live our lives as we wish. As long as we obey numerous laws that we don’t necessarily agree with. Or as long as the various bureaucracies that govern our lives permit us. Or as long as we don’t step on anyone else’s toes. Or we are free to speak our minds, as long as we don’t offend anyone. We are free to go anywhere we want, as long as we have all the right paperwork. Somehow I am not seeing the “without constraints” part of the word there.
I could point out other words that no longer seem to mean what they used too. Some of the changes may be an improvement. Others not so much. But watching these changes (and many older words they have evolved much over time) can provide interesting insights into the “psychology” of a culture. But since I am one to frequently take liberties with words, I guess I can’t complain!