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What Does Freelance Mean, Anyway?

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What does freelance mean, anyway?

Everyone these days has heard the word freelance. But what does freelance mean, exactly?

Freelance Definition

To freelance means to work for yourself. Freelancers are their own boss and the owners of their own business, no matter how small, no matter how profitable.

Drawing of four people fitting the freelance definition

A freelancer creates products or performs services for only one entity or for multiple entities, for periods of time ranging from hours to decades.

Most freelancers work at home, home but not all. Some freelancers must work outside the home such as bartenders, actors, drivers and DJ’s. Other freelancers work while they’re traveling.

Graphic of a traveling freelancer in front of a spaceship


Virtually all freelancers who work at home or work while traveling do their work on a computer. This is called working online. These freelancers need the internet in order to do work such as receiving and sending files, communicating with clients and using social media to network and promote their business. Some online freelance careers include writing, proofreading, scoping and virtual assisting.

Anyone can freelance, from Ph.D’s and M.D.’S to people with no diplomas or degrees.

 Freelance Origin

The word freelance comes from the term “free lance.” But where did free lance originate? Some people have dug deep to try to find out.

Not everything that was written down centuries ago is still around. Many books have been preserved, though, so it is in books that the earliest usages of free lance have been discovered.

The earliest known literary usage of the term free lance was apparently in 1716, but the exact book in which the term was written cannot be located.

The earliest usage of the term free lance which has been located is in a book about a mercenary soldier published in 1809. In The Life and Times of Hugh Miller, American author Thomas N. Brown writes: “But when the battle was hottest, Hugh Miller was a loyal combatant, not a free lance.”

The word free here refers to the freedom enjoyed by mercenary soldiers, who would fight for one side in battle while keeping themselves free from political affiliation. The word lance refers to the soldier’s sword-like weapon.

So the original meaning of freelance basically is an impartial warrior who fights with a sword.


Black and white drawing of a soldier raising his lance
Free lancer

This term evolved into free-lance in the 1920’s and then finally into the modern usage and spelling freelance in the 1970’s.

Freelancing has taken root all around the world and could become the primary way that people earn income in the future. Time will let us know if freelancing sticks around and continues to evolve.


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