Given its origin, it’s ironic that the term “liberal” should have become a dirty word in the US. It’s derived from the Latin word liber meaning to be “free”, so you’d think that a nation that was willing to make great sacrifices in the name of freedom must be full of liberals wouldn’t you? Not so apparently, which makes me wonder what all that talk about encouraging democracy and freedom is all about.
The Online Etymology Dictionary has an entry for “liberal” and it’s quite interesting:
c.1375, from O.Fr. liberal “befitting free men, noble, generous,” from L. liberalis “noble, generous,” lit. “pertaining to a free man,” from liber “free,” from PIE base *leudheros (cf. Gk. eleutheros “free”), probably originally “belonging to the people” (though the precise semantic development is obscure), from *leudho- “people” (cf. O.C.S. ljudu, Lith. liaudis, O.E. leod, Ger. Leute “nation, people”). Earliest reference in Eng. is to the liberal arts (L. artes liberales; see art (n.)), the seven attainments directed to intellectual enlargement, not immediate practical purpose, and thus deemed worthy of a free man (the word in this sense was opposed to servile or mechanical). Sense of “free in bestowing” is from 1387. With a meaning “free from restraint in speech or action” (1490) liberal was used 16c.-17c. as a term of reproach. It revived in a positive sense in the Enlightenment, with a meaning “free from prejudice, tolerant,” which emerged 1776-88. Purely in ref. to political opinion, “tending in favor of freedom and democracy” it dates from c.1801, from Fr. lib