Like those in time past, their separate clients and the tools they use today also identify freelancers. Their work and their weapons. As Deskmag has noted here before, an increasing number of workers are choosing coworking as a way to stay free but also access the power of connection. It’s easy to visualize the thousands of freelancers huddled around their tools in coworking spaces around the world today. Individual yet connected. An army of creative mercenaries.
Second, using the Ngram chart as a guide, you can clearly see the evolution of the word "freelance" over time. The two separate words “free lance,” were used more often than any other spellings through the early 1800s, until the hyphenated version, “free-lance, began to take over in popularity in the 1920s. Finally in the late 1970s, writers eschewed the hyphen in favor of pushing the words together. A seamless solution for an integrated word in a further integrated world. The word became simply, “freelance.” Our tendency with language is to make words streamlined over time, and our workplaces and work lives are no different. Where we once worked apart from each other, plying our trades in dark and isolated offices, we now prefer the light filled openness of the modern coworking space. According to the global forecast for coworking, these trends are increasing.
We have removed the extraneous parts of the traditional office and have whittled coworking spaces down to their essence. Concurrently, our work lives have also followed suit. We can now carry an entire office in our briefcase: phone, Rolodex, copy machine, file cabinet, internet, etc. We have been simplifying the physical workspace by placing so much of it in digital form. This article could not have been written if this lowly freelancer didn’t have access to the information superhighway. I am a freelancer using modern tools, which have been simplified over the years to research the word freelance, which has itself been simplified over time. It’s all so Meta.
So, back to P.G. Wodehouse and his earnest optimism. By the time he referenced a character that was living happily as a freelance writer in the 1930s, freelancing was a fairly common idea. But Wodehouse hit on something interesting. Freelancing makes people happy., it is clear that freelancers are generally happier and feel better about their career than traditional workers. According to the Deskmag Global Survey but why should that be? Perhaps we can find a clue in the root words themselves, as they might shed some light on the idea behind freelancing and the initial concept of self-fulfillment.
It turns out that word "free" comes from a root word of Germanic origin, meaning to love. And "lance" is related to the old French word for launch, meaning to hurl, throw or discharge with force. Beautiful, right? And not just for people who love to throw things. It’s especially helpful because this concept can be interpreted in one of two ways. Freelancers may be happy because they are hurling themselves at what they love to do, discharging the force of their creativity into their work. Or they may be happy because they are creating work with love before hurling it into the world for the rest of us to utilize and appreciate. Whatever the interpretation, freelancers are essentially given permission to be happy at work, from the very word itself, freelance.
As a freelancer myself, I have gained a few important take-aways from these explanations of the term. While the word "freelance" first rose to prominence as a way to describe mercenary soldiers, it is not a new idea. Throughout history workers have sold their availability and skill for a purpose, and there is something fundamentally comforting in the concept that nothing is entirely new. The philosophical challenges we face as humans and workers in today’s world are similar to those of our ancestors, even if we are separated by hundreds of years. The tools may have changed, but we are stilling fighting the good fight, selling our work for the promise of pride and a sense of fulfillment in our lives. It’s a difficult road to take and it can certainly wear a person down but when all else fails, remember the root words. Your work and your weapon. Hurl yourself at the things you love. Your passion will be reflected in your creations and in the quality of your happiness.