was used as the second element in a hyphenated adjective to show that
something did not include a particular element; we are all familiar
with tax-free, toll-free and duty-free. This led to the figurative
sense of ‘not hampered by whatever has been named in the first word.’
Once this sense was established, it was but a small jump to the
present multi-faceted use of ‘free’ as a second element. Modern
living has added a number of first elements to give a list of new
words. Ingredients or processes that were formerly thought desirable
are today thought undesirable in certain products, giving rise to a
whole new vocabulary. These words are used to make certain products
acceptable to the consumer, who looks for healthy living. So, there is
milk-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and wheat-free. Then, there are
words created for special diets, words like alcohol-free,
cholesterol-free, salt-free, meat-free and dairy-free. A word of
caution, though: A recent advertisement promised a good cooking oil
that highlighted the offering ‘cholesterol free’! Miss out the
hyphen and there is a complete turnaround in meaning. An undesirable
activity or process demands declarations like animal-free and
cruelty-free; especially when cosmetics are involved. Foodstuffs are
often labelled additive-free, preservative-free or colour-free.
Similarly electrical gadgets are CFC-free.
How could unfriendly be far behind in all this hectic activity? In order to create words opposite in meaning to the ones above, along came user-unfriendly, environment-unfriendly and ozone-unfriendly.
When a word is taken by
another language as loanword, new shades of meaning are added on
according to the new contexts. Vinay, from Sanskrit, is
one such word. In Sanskrit, vinay meant self-control or ideal
behaviour. So much so that the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Dharmshastra,
Nitishastra and the Buddhist texts use vinay as a synonym for
vidya, knowledge; since education and knowledge teach
self-control and ideal behaviour. After reaching the Hindi lexicon, vinay
came to mean namrata or sweetness of disposition; henceforth,
Sanskrit too added this meaning to vinay.