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What’s the Real Story Behind the Term ‘Freelancer?’

The Eglinton Tournament, Wiki Commons

For a lot of people these days, the job market is still a pretty gloomy affair. Temporary jobs, part-time work and freelancing have all been on the rise. Well, for those of you who make your bread and butter by freelancing, you can take heart. You’re in the company of proud, if somewhat immoral, warriors.

What is a freelancer?

A freelancer is someone who is self-employed and works from contact to contract. They tend to have a lot more freedom than a typical contracted employee, but less job security, benefits and perks.

A novel idea

The term ‘freelancer’ was first coined in the early 19th century novel Ivanhoe. The Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, created a complex world populated by historical figures from the Crusades, as well as some characters shrouded in legend, such as Robin Hood. The novel was a romantic tale of chivalry and political intrigue. Of course, every work of fiction and adventure needs someone to fight, and that’s where the freelancers came in.

A lance for hire

In Ivanhoe, the freelancers were medieval mercenaries, hailing from the kingdoms of Italy and France. The men literally had a lance that was ‘free,’ or ready for hire. They were paid to fight other men’s battles — battles in which the freelancers had no real vested interest. All that mattered was how much money any particular mercenary could get for the service of his lance.

Modern-day mercenaries

If you think modern-day freelancers are only techies, writers and business consultants, you’d be wrong. Remember Blackwater in Iraq a few years back, and many of the other private security firms? Those folks are proudly carrying on the freelance tradition, as the word was originally intended, and providing men and women ready to fight… for the right price.

[Freelance Advisor]

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