• Steven Heller

The Meaning of FREE

What is your favorite word? (I know it’s a silly question.) Could it be “FREE”? What do you feel when you see the word? Something for nothing? A gift? Crap that no one wants?


In the early part of the 20th century, giving away something was the strategy used for selling other things. The idea of a loss-leader derives from this concept of FREE. There are variations on the theme, like ridiculously low prices (which gives the taker the sense of purchase, rather than being a freeloader). There are also things sold “on approval” (FREE for a limited period).


These advertisements reveal just how frequent FREE was and, if you think about it, still is. But as the anagram and saying goes: TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch). Everything has a hidden cost that in one way or another is passed on to the consumer. And that is the real meaning of FREE.


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