Free as in Friend

In Chris Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Rad­i­cal Price, he looks into the mean­ing of the word free. The word has two mean­ings: free as in “free­dom” and free as in “price.” Most of the romance lan­guages divide these mean­ings into two dif­fer­ent words, derived from liber and grati­is. Our double-duty Eng­lish word comes from Old Eng­lish fre­on or fre­ogan, mean­ing “to free, love.” In addi­tion to free, this word also gave us our word friend. Ander­son quotes ety­mol­o­gist Dou­glas Harper:

The pri­ma­ry sense seems to have been “beloved, friend”; which in some lan­guages (notably Ger­man­ic and Celtic) devel­oped a sense of “free,” per­haps from the terms “beloved” or “friend” being applied to the free mem­bers of one’s clan (as opposed to slaves). (P. 18)

This double-meaning of beloved and free made friend the per­fect word for the ear­ly trans­la­tors of the Eng­lish bible when they got to John 15, where Jesus says:

Hence­forth I call you not ser­vants; for the ser­vant knoweth not what
his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I
have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not
cho­sen me, but I have cho­sen you, and ordained you, that ye should go
and bring forth fruit, and [that] your fruit should remain: that
what­so­ev­er ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I com­mand you, that ye love one another.

This was a favorite verse of a bunch of spir­i­tu­al trouble-makers in Eng­land in mid-1600s, who liked it so much they start­ed call­ing one anoth­er Friends. They were a new brother- and sister-hood of beloveds, new­ly freed of the tyrants of their age by their per­son­al expe­ri­ence of Christ as friend, spread­ing the good news that we were all free and all com­mand­ed to love one another.

  • The word in John 15 is philoi: “friend” in the sense of “beloved”, rather than in the sense of “free”. A slave or ser­vant (dou­los) in Greek cul­ture might eas­i­ly also be a beloved friend, and there were many record­ed instances of such. Slav­ery in those days did not have the over­tones of reduction-to-the-status-of-object-or-beast that it lat­er came to have in the U.S.. Indeed, the sta­tus of a house­hold slave was near­er that of a “cap­tive” of a native Amer­i­can tribe: it meant being forcibly adopt­ed as a mem­ber of the clan and so being under the clan’s pro­tec­tion (and shar­ing in the clan’s col­lec­tive priv­i­leges) as well as being under its orders.

    Paul tes­ti­fied that those in Christ were nei­ther slave nor free. (Gala­tians 3:28; Colos­sians 3:11) He sent at least one slave who had become Chris­t­ian and run away from cap­tiv­i­ty, back to his mas­ter who also a Chris­t­ian, with an elo­quent plea that the mas­ter — no, not lib­er­ate the slave — but treat the slave as if he were Paul him­self. (Phile­mon)

    I have per­son­al­ly found the idea that we who are Christ’s friends are not free, any more than we are slaves, to be a pow­er­ful teach­ing; it has altered my atti­tude in ways that have opened the door to won­der­ful inter­ac­tions with others.

    • Mar­shall: thanks for the deep­er expla­na­tion of friend/free/beloved. Yes, I wasn’t expect­ing that Chris Ander­son was going very deep into BIb­li­cal crit­i­cism. That kind of in-between both/neither of free and slave to Christ that I think you’re describ­ing is also my expe­ri­ence with the Light. I won­der if our adop­tion of the word “Friend” has led many of us to min­i­mize the obligation/servitude side of the equation.

    • @Marshall: thanks for the deep­er expla­na­tion. Yes, I wasn’t expect­ing that
      Chris Ander­son was going very deep into BIb­li­cal crit­i­cism. That kind of
      in-between both/neither of free and slave to Christ that I think you’re
      describ­ing is also my expe­ri­ence with the Light. I won­der if our adop­tion of
      the word “Friend” has led many of us to min­i­mize the obligation/servitude
      side of the equation.

  • Not about your point, but a cau­tion. Small por­tions of Chris Anderson’s book were pla­gia­rized. Which makes me con­cerned about his and his editor’s atti­tudes toward infor­ma­tion. Free, yes, but also be respon­si­ble. Espe­cial­ly since one rea­son giv­en was that they couldn’t fig­ure out how to cred­it. Real­ly? Meg http://​www​.pla​gia​rism​to​day​.com/​2​0​0​9​/​0​6​/​2​4​/​t​h​e​-​c​h​r​i​s​-​a​n​d​e​r​s​o​n​-​p​l​a​g​i​a​r​i​s​m​-​c​o​n​t​r​o​v​e​r​sy/

    • @Meg: A sen­tence half way down the arti­cle you link to starts off “With­out
      actu­al­ly look­ing at the work…” I don’t put much stock in a critique
      writ­ten by some­one who hasn’t even both­ered to read the book.

      Chris Ander­son has apol­o­gized for miss­ing some Wikipedia, etc., attributions
      and said it was a mix-up of notes. I can see how that could hap­pen. The most
      famous copied pas­sage is about the term “Free Lunch.” He decid­ed when
      writ­ing that he want­ed to have a digres­sion about this con­cept, cut and
      past­ed notes from var­i­ous sources and then for­got which parts he had written
      and which were copied. Hon­est mis­take of a few pages in a 257 page book. But
      because the top­ic is dis­rup­tive busi­ness mod­els, he’s under sus­pi­cion of
      inten­tion­al pira­cy and dis­re­gard for copyright.

      But step back for the con­text. Chris Andes­on isn’t some pimply-faced
      teenag­er sit­ting in a base­ment down­load­ing the lat­est U2 album off Pirate
      Bay. He’s edi­tor in chief of a flag­ship Conde Nast pub­li­ca­tion. The book is
      pub­lished and edit­ed by an imprint of Dis­ney, the largest media com­pa­ny in
      the world (and arguably the archi­tect of copy­right as we know it, as
      exten­sions of copy­right law are passed every few years just as Mick­ey Mouse
      is about to fall into pub­lic domain). High pro­file exec­u­tives of Conde Nast
      and the Walt Dis­ney Com­pa­ny aren’t the ones who are going to lead attacks on
      intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty and copyright.

      BTW, it’s def­i­nite­ly a good book. Easy to read, thought­ful. I would imagine
      it would be impor­tant for librar­i­ans, since we’re talk­ing about mod­els of
      con­tent con­sump­tion. My copy comes from the Atlantic Coun­ty Library System,
      who will prob­a­bly not be get­ting back quite on the due date (shhh!).