phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 12, 2007

In Reply to: MAKE SOMEONE FREE OF SOMETHING posted by Smokey Stover on January 12, 2007

: : Dear experts,

: : According to the Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs by R. Courtney, MAKE SOMEONE FREE OF SOMETHING can be used to mean 'give smb. the right or permission to use smth. that belongs to another person, as in:

: : They were made free of his house and garden; they visited him in the evenings for lessons and advice.

: : His uncle, a clergyman named Thomas Hill, was almost a father to him; and his half-aunt, Miss Tyler, made him free of her house till his own eccentricities, and her wrath at his marriage, drove him out.

: : The phrase doesn't seem to make sense to speakers of American English. Would you say this usage is strictly British?

: : Thank you,
: : Yuri

: I'm a speaker of American English, most of the time, and I recognize and understand the use you illustrate. Do I use it myself? No. But many American writers use Britishisms (Britticisms? British bits?) without blinking, so it is probably an exaggeration to call it "strictly British." Perhaps it is unstrictly British.
: SS

As often happens on this board, I (an Englishwoman) am surprised to learn that a phrase I would use without thinking is strange to Americans, or at least strikes them as a "Briticism". Perhaps we use it more because it refers to a legal procedure that still exists in Britain. In the Middle Ages only free men (i.e. not serfs, or vassals of a feudal lord) had the right to own property and practice a trade or craft within a town; if a stranger came to a city he had to become a freeman of that city - to be * made free of* it - in order to buy a house and do business there. Ancient cities in Britain still maintain this custom, although it is now purely a ceremonial honour with only theoretical picturesque privileges attached. E.g. a Freeman of the City of London may drive a flock of sheep over London Bridge - somebody actually did this last year - and a Freeman of Glasgow may fish in the River Clyde (and is theoretically obliged to help police the city, and defend it in case of attack). Freedom of a city is also often conferred on local military units, and gives them the right to march through the city with drums beating and colours flying - something which would otherwise count as an act of aggression against the civic authorities and the citizens. (VSD)