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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(adj.) open and honest, especially about delicate matters

Sometimes, a word’s etymology unlocks a lot more than just the history of the word itself. Case in point, the intertwined origins of France and the adjective frank.

The last Roman-controlled state of Gaul, Soissons, fell to the Franks in AD 486. With the Franks thereafter the only truly free citizens in the region, their name came to mean ‘free’ in the local language—and after the Norman Conquest of England, that word, franc, fell into use in English and we’ve been speaking frankly ever since.

As for France? It developed from the Franks’ kingdom of Francia. And as for the Franks themselves? No one is entirely sure where their name comes from, but there’s a good chance it derives from an old Germanic word for a spear or some similar projectile.

But those aren’t the only words that find themselves tied into this etymological network.

Who is that guy? He looks familiar. Anyway, he’s right. If your mail has been franked then it’s free from any further payment obligations. And if you’re disenfranchised, then you’ve lost your freedom—more often than not, your freedom to vote.

A franchise itself was originally a freedom or exemption granted by a sovereign. A franklin was originally a freeholder. In legal parlance, a frankchase is a free hunt. A franc-tireur is a sharpshooter, so named because the first people this name ever applied to were irregular riflemen during the Franco-Prussian War, who were ‘free’ from any official connection to the regular French military.

And as the Franks steadily became the ruling noblemen and women of ancient Francia, their name came to be applied to an especially fine aromatic resin, suitable only for the very highest of high-status citizens: frankincense, quite literally, is incense only good enough for the Franks.

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