The word freelance was first used in Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe, where it exclusively referred to a type of mercenary warrior during the Middle Ages. The idea was that these soldiers and their weapons were not sworn to any particular liege, but were instead free to hire. A figurative sense of this emerged in the 1860s, and by today the historical definition has been largely replaced with connotations of consultants and journalists. The word free, through Old English freo, comes from the Proto-Germanic root friaz, meaning "beloved" (that's from Proto-Indo-European pri, "to love"), and the word lance is from Latin lancea, which possibly comes from a Proto-Indo-European root sounding like plehk and meaning "to hit". Literary usage of the word freelance peaked in 2002 and has been declining since.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.