Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Land of the Free

David H. from Virginia Beach asks:

Which statement is correct? Both?

"I got a new shirt for free."
"I got a new shirt free."

This is a common conversation with my father; he laughs at the commercials that say "You can get this for free."

Thanks for writing, David. There's a simple answer to your question, as well as a complicated one.

The simple answer is both are correct.

The complicated answer is that "for free" is considered an idiom. Like slang, it's slightly less acceptable but not grammatically incorrect. Among the many definitions of free in Webster's Dictionary is "without cost, payment, or charge." To say "I got a new shirt without charge" is appropriate, although ridiculously formal, whereas "I got a new shirt for without charge" sounds retarded. Curiously, if you consider free to be the equivalent of $0.00, then it becomes a noun, and "for free" would seem the correct usage and "free" entirely incorrect. Webster's does not address this. The only noun version of free is given as "people who are free," as in "land of the free." Maybe the Webster's editors just don't like math.

11 Comments:

Blogger Jason said...

In GMAU, Bryan Garner prefers free. But he admits that while "for free is a casualism and a severely overworked ad cliche, the expression is far too common to be called an error."

7:58 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Hey, D., how much did you charge for this answer?

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Jeanne said...

So. How do you get this damned free shirt?

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Other Style Council,

I am writing this in much urgency.

I have noticed at the Orange County Business Journal that the period in abbreviations isn't included when a name is boldfaced. Examples are St. James, Volcom Inc., J. D. Meyers -- yes! None of the periods are boldfaced only the letters when a company is highlighted.

Yet dashes are bolded if it is part of the formal name. Which is correct way? Bold or unbold?

I say bold.

Thanks in advance.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Dear Anonymous,

Firstly, apologies for the delay.

Secondly, I'd say that's something that falls under the purview of the style mavens at the OC Business Journal. Those types of typographical decisions change publication by publication, and many of them have ancient and seemingly archaic reasons behind them. For example, at the Weekly, we only capitalize a "The" in band names when it appears in bolded copy in our listings. When it's in regular feature copy, we lowercase the "the."

But, since you're asking: I'd set the periods in bold. Seems way too much work to go through and ensure all those periods are romanized.

Hope that helps,

Craig

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the help, Craig.

11:09 AM  
Blogger alex said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason,
Are you sure your answer is not influenced by your fluency in Bullfrog?

4:08 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

The noble Bullfrog, alas, prefers "for free" but he has no need for t-shirts.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, ok. The extra 'g' is for luck, right? (See your October 16, 2006 posting.) My question is why an extra 'g' is lucky. No one appears able to provide an answer on this one.

Can you?

6:56 PM  
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5:36 AM  

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