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    1. The condition of being free from restriction or control.
    2. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing.
    3. The condition of being physically and legally free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor.
      (see 'Synonyms').

  1. Freedom from unjust or undue governmental control.

  2. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference:
    e.g. the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.

    1. A breach or overstepping of propriety or social convention. Often used in the plural.
    2. A statement, attitude, or action not warranted by conditions or actualities: a historical novel that takes liberties with chronology.
    3. An unwarranted risk; a chance: took foolish liberties on the ski slopes.

at liberty
  1. Not in confinement or under constraint; free.
  2. Not employed, occupied, or in use.

[Middle English liberte, from Old French, from Latin libertas from liber, free. See leudh- in Indo-European Roots.]

freedom, liberty, license

These nouns refer to the power to act, speak, or think without externally imposed restraints.

Freedom is the most general term: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free” (Abraham Lincoln).

Liberty implies a condition of previous servitude, from which a person or persons are now freed*. The word is most frequently used to stress the power of free choice: “liberty, perfect liberty; to think, feel, do just as one pleases” (William Hazlitt).

License sometimes denotes deliberate deviation from normally applicable rules or practices to achieve a desired effect: poetic license.
Frequently, though, it denotes undue freedom: the intolerable license with which the newspapers break... the rules of decorum” (Edmund Burke).

* see the Latin words "Libertini"/"Libertus"/"Liberta" (a freed slave) and "Libertas" (a free man: one who is not a slave, servant, apprentice, or active soldier).

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Friday, November 23, 2001 23:26; updated: 2007, 2008