The History of Contracting

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Whilst there has been a definite surge in freelancing over the last few years, the history of contracting, or freelancing, goes back much further than originally thought. We’ve travelled back through time to find out when the idea first came into existence.

Emergence of the term

In terms of spoken word, it’s pretty much impossible to determine when a word enters the English language. We must rely on print to gauge when a word was first introduced. We did a bit of digging, and our research suggests that the term ‘free lance’ first appeared in a book in 1719.

What exactly was a ‘free lance’?

Our research then found further use of the term a century later, in 1819. Appearing in the historical novel ‘Ivanhoe’ written by Sit Walter Scott, a ‘free lance’ (a lance not sworn to a king’s services) was described as a medieval mercenary that would fight for the nation paying the most. To put this into context, there were soldiers who fought for their kings and lords, and soldiers who chose whoever paid them more. This could be an early representation of today’s ‘day rate’. Would you choose to be loyal, or choose the higher wage? It’s a difficult one once you start thinking about it!

As the name suggests, medieval mercenaries were not a new idea in the 18th century. They were often described by their available tools; this isn’t too different from categorising a contractor nowadays by the services they offer.

The end of the battle

As we moved on from battles and interest in ‘free lances’ declined, the term gained a broader meaning. It was then used to mean a politician with no political affiliation, today’s version of an independent politician. This slightly strayed from the idea of selling a service, however the main concept of ‘freedom’ still applied to these individuals.

Modern use of the term

Over time, freelancers offered their services to boost sales. In the 1920s, the term adapted from ‘free lance’, to ‘free-lance’, quickly gaining popularity. In line with the digital age and the growing trend of streamlining services, the hyphenated word was dropped in favour of pushing the words together, and today’s term was born: ‘freelance’. The modern freelancer is identified by the services they can offer to different clients. Both a freelancer through history, and the modern freelancer, have a common interest in doing what they love to make a living.

From then to now

As mentioned, past and modern freelancers share the same interest: supplying their services to make a living. At ClearSky, we have supported thousands of happy contractors since 2000. If you’re a contractor looking for an accountant, we’re the ideal solution. Our accountants take care of your accounts, leaving you to excel in your career. To get the ball rolling, get in touch by calling 0800 464 0339.