Sir Walter Scott and Me

250px-Sir_Walter_Scott_-_RaeburnAre you aware of the origins of the word “freelance?” I certainly wasn’t. Though that hardly has kept me from idly tossing the word around for the past, oh, 30 years.

Of course, I know what “freelance” means, especially as it pertains to the creative and graphics arts industries. I’ve worked with countless freelance writers, designers, producers, etc., as they plied their respective trades. And, oh yes, I am a freelance writer.

But the roots of the word? No clue, until now. Evidently, we have none other than Sir Walter Scott to thank for coming up with the term. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

According to Jinxi Boo, the original  “freelances” were medieval knights from Italy (condottiere) and France (compagnies grandes). Hmm. Maybe I should brand myself as a “condottiere.” I’ve been called worse.

Skilled with the lance – that long, nasty-looking, pointed pole used in the quaint “sport” of jousting – they sold their expertise to any and all buyers. Didn’t matter terribly if the buyer’s cause was just or not, the lance-for-hire did his job as long as he was paid his due. I’m not sure if “winning” the joust or the battle was a prerequisite for getting paid.

You might say that the condottiere and compagnies grandes were among the first to be tasked with producing “sticky” results. Which, come to think about it, probably wouldn’t be funny if you found yourself on the business end of said lance.

The actual term for the noble knight riders, “freelance,” was presumably coined by Sir Walter Scott, in Ivanhoe, in 1820. It wasn’t until 60 years later that the term was applied to writers and other purveyors of more genteel arts and services.

It makes one wonder how that transition of the word from jousting to writing came about. Perhaps it had something to do with writing with quills. I mean, they must have hurt too, if stuck in the wrong place, right?

Me? I’ll stick with the keyboard.

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