Freelancer’s ABC a type of employment

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A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer. The term “freelance” was first coined by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in his well-known historical romance Ivanhoe to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” (or “freelance“). The phrase later transitioned to a figurative noun around the 1860s and was then officially recognized as a verb in1903 by various authorities in etymology such as the Oxford English Dictionary. Only in modern times has the term morphed from a noun (a freelance) into an adjective (a freelance journalist), various verb forms (a journalist who freelances) and an adverb (she worked freelance), and then from the verb into the derived noun form “freelancer”.

The author and poet Ernest William Hornung (1866–1921) also used the term in “The Gift of the Emperor” to describe something of poor quality: “I warmed to my woes. It was no easy matter to keep your end up as a raw freelance of letters; for my part, I was afraid I wrote neither well enough nor ill enough for success.”

Fields where freelancing is especially common include journalism and other forms of writing, copywriting, computer programming and graphic design, consulting, and many other professional and creative services.

Freelance practice varies greatly. Some require clients to sign written contracts, while others may perform work based on verbal agreements, perhaps enforceable through the very nature of the work. Some freelancers may provide written estimates of work and request deposits from clients.

Payment for freelance work also varies greatly. Freelancers may charge by the day or hour, or on a per-project basis. Instead of a flat rate or fee, some consultants have adopted a value-based pricing method based on the perceived value of the results to the client. By custom, payment arrangements may be upfront, percentage upfront, or upon completion. For more complex projects, a contract may set a payment schedule based on milestones or outcomes.

Sercan Ertan

About Sercan Ertan

Now and always, translator from English to Turkish with specialization in education, pedagogy, occupational health and safety, environmental conservation, construction industry and linguistics.

6 thoughts on “Freelancer’s ABC a type of employment

  1. Thank you Sercan, I had never considered the origin of the term either!
    After I read your article, I wondered how a freelancer differed from a mercenary (the soldier aspect aside) and did some quick research.

    One hypothesis that I found interesting is the following: a mercenary doesn’t care about the consequences of their actions or the cause they are serving as long as they get paid, whereas a freelancer has a code of ethics and cares about their reputation. In addition, if a mercenary thinks that taking on a job might lead to negative repercussions (e.g. problems with the law), they might simply raise their price.

    In practice, this means that:
    – a mercenary won’t mind translating marketing materials for a company known for violating human rights, whereas a freelancer might refuse due to their personal values and/or out of fear that this contract might tarnish their reputation.
    – a mercenary may accept assignments in the medical field despite their complete lack of knowledge on the subject, whereas a freelancer might consider it too risky as human lives are at stake.
    – a mercenary should have no problem doing something illegal (such as mistranlating a legal or administrative document as ordered by a client) in exchange for a higher fee than usual, whereas a freelancer might worry about the ethics and the consequences of breaking the law.

    It also means, though, that there are (at least) two definitions of the freelancer, even within our profession, and that some freelancers (in the wider sense) are “mercenaries”. But in practice, how certain can we be that what we are doing won’t have negative repercussions?
    In the case of a medical translation, for instance, even if our translation is flawless, how sure are we that the product or process described in the original document and in our translation won’t lead to deaths? Do we even take the time to ask ourselves this question?
    And if we know enough about the field to suspect that the product or process might be dangerous, should (and will) we mention it to the client, or to some higher authority? Is it our responsibility?

    To end on a more positive note, we might also want to ask ourselves whether the term “freelancer” suits the way we see ourselves and want to be seen. For instance, John Tabita prefers the term “business owner” for a number of reasons exposed in this post: link to
    Here is a quote that sums up the difference between the two: “For me, freelancing felt too much like working for someone else—like a subordinate paid to push the right buttons on the keyboard, instead of someone providing a business solution.”

    Well, Sercan, you definitely gave me a lot to think about. Thanks again!

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    1. The differences from the origins and today may be an appropriate topic to be developed into a good article. You are right about the ethical aspects concerning mercenaries and freelancers. However, it seems a very deep insight choosing projects. Thanks for the comment. It was a pleasure to gain a new perspectve towards project selection and being a business owner.

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