Printable Version
Pronunciation: li-bê-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun

Meaning: 1. Not stingy or restricted, generous, permissive, as a liberal helping of mashed potatoes or a liberal interpretation of the law. 2. Open-minded, open to new ideas, broad, not restricted, as a liberal (arts) education. 3. (Politics) Favoring reform and progress, tolerant of a broad range of ideas, forward-looking.

Notes: The values of political liberals have come to the fore again as a result of recent elections in the US. The liberal party in the US, the Democrats, has difficulty defining itself because of its tolerance of such a broad range of ideas. The only common ground for all liberals is the commitment to a free society and progress. The adverb for the adjective is liberally and the noun, liberalness. Liberalism is the noun for politically liberal views.

In Play: In his Devil's Dictionary (1911) Ambrose Bierce distinguishes a conservative from a liberal by defining the former as "[a] statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others." Bierce often goes directly to the point. But don't forget that the adjective has a much broader sense: "You had better dress your hotdogs at Throckmorton's cookouts yourself; he is very liberal with the mustard and loves the hot kind."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Old French liberal "befitting a free man, noble, generous," the descendant of Latin liberalis "related to a free man, noble, generous". The Latin adjective comes from liber "free", which came from the Proto-Indo-European root leudheros "related to people", also visible in Greek eleutheros "free". The PIE adjective came from leudho- "people", which turns up with the same meaning in both German Leute and Russian lyudi. It seems the idea that people should be free goes back several millennia. (We should be liberal with our gratitude to Jim Schwall for feeling free enough to suggest today's very topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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