Every Fourth of July, Americans celebrate the freedom won and defended by the brave people who founded this country. Our national anthem, with lyrics by Francis Scott Key, is often echoed on Independence Day, and its closing lines have become a tagline for the American people: “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”
What does it mean to be a land of the “free”? Linguistically, the word free follows a fairly simple path. Our adjective free comes from the Old English frēo. Frēo is closely related to the Old English verb frēon, which meant “to love, like, honor, set free (from slavery or confinement).” This brings new light to the aphorism, “If you love someone, set them free.” In fact, the linguistic connection between freeing and loving lives on in the word friend, a cognate of our word free.
Friend and free share ancestry with the Old English frēon, the present participle of which is frēond. Frēond is the source of our word friend. Further links between the concept of friend and the concept of love can be easily spotted between the Latin amīcus, “friend,” and amō, “I love,” as well as between the Greek philos, “friend,” and phileō, “I love.”
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