I've been "away" for a month, developing a new book: Engineering Your Life. The premise is that the same engineering processes that created wonders such as the Hoover Dam and the Apollo Space Mission can be used to solve everyday problems, and also to enhance creativity. I invite you to visit www.engineeringyourlife.com and click Forum. If you enjoy what you read, you can participate in the making of the book.
While working on the new book--with my coauthor Jonathan Caws-Elwitt--I've continued to job down words that interest me.
Today, if it's OK with you, I'm going to depart from this blog's routine of examining doublets--word pairs that may seem unrelated yet are connect etymologically, for example, cosmos & cosmetics, and rectitude & rectum. I want to focus on a single word: free. There are many uses for the word, but I'm thinking about it in the context of something given to someone without payment. When I was growing, marketers talked about "free samples," which allowed a potential customer to try a product without paying for it. On buses, information was dispensed from a container labeled "Free, take one."
These days, many companies have hijacked the word "free." For example, a certain credit-reporting company uses "free" in its title. The implication is that you can get your credit report free by going to a website. But you only get the "free" report if you purchase the service. You might think: "Well, sure, no one gives anything away without strings attached." Maybe now, but in the old days, they did. Why? Because the company believed that the person using the free sample would become a paying customer.
There are companies that now advertise they will give you a free supply of their product if you only will pay the shipping cost. To pay the cost, you need to sign up for the product and provide your credit card to pay the postage. But some of these companies then bill the person for the next supply even if the person who ordered the "free" sample doesn't want it.
Here's some free advice: When someone makes you a free offer, your first move should be to protect my wallet. Caveat emptor? Sure. But still I'm angry about the debasement of a perfectly good word.
Labels: advertising, free, lies, lying