Last week, LinkedIn highlighted a trending notion that “employees jumping from job to job are getting bigger paychecks than their counterparts who stay put.” According to the ADP Research Institute report that was cited, “Workers who switched jobs from one month to the next see an average wage growth of nearly 5.3%…”

More often than not, our circle of acquaintances includes an independent artist, writer, musician, photographer, or someone similar attempting to make a living from job to job through their respective craft. Maybe you have even taken the title yourself and used it as a means to get through hard times or pay for your college education. However, as is typical, the modern freelancer is not on payroll and provides services or products directly to clients—often without a middle man.

Yet, why do we describe such an individual or their work as “freelance”? How did moving from job to job in a sort of gig economy develop such an established designation?

The term “freelance” was popularized by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe, published in 1819. A knight himself, Sir Walter Scott coined the descriptive term as a reference to a soldier—“Free Lance.” The “lance” part of the word harks back to the Middle Ages when knights used to fight with a sword and lance.

At this time, most warriors would have sworn their allegiance to the king or lord of their realm. Meanwhile, others were roving soldiers or medieval mercenaries who operated on their own, offering their swords, lances, and services to the highest bidder. These solders were free of any continuing loyalties and as such were known as “free companions.”

A few centuries later, individuals known as “freebooters,” or what we would consider as modern-day pirates, would outfit their own ships in order to prowl the seas for more economic opportunities.

Today, freelance workers and artists may not necessarily be the exact image of pirates, soldiers or knights suggested by the history of the term, but the potential for opportunity continues to be the source of motivation and inspiration. Creative professionals have embraced the opportunity of expressing themselves meanwhile supplementing their financial development and students with a desire for future success in their educational and professional journeys have realized that freelance work or similar projects can develop skills that will not only pay in the moment, but down the line as well.

Although, a “self-employed person” may not be the most poetic or versatile way to refer to such individuals, the industry of freelancers in the labor market has become a definitive and viable option for many, especially as they consider jumping from job to job to advance and grow.


  • Garrison, Webb. Why You Say It: The Fascinating Stories Behind Over 600 Everyday Words and Phrases. MJF Books, 1992, 29-30
  • Why Do We Say It? The Stories Behind the Words, Expressions, and Clichés We Use. Castle Books, 1985, 99

About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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