Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
  • adj. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
  • adj. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
  • adj. Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.
  • adj. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
  • adj. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
  • adj. Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
  • adj. Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.
  • adj. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
  • adj. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
  • n. A person with liberal ideas or opinions.
  • n. A member of a Liberal political party.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Pertaining to those arts and sciences the study of which is considered "worthy of a free man" (as opposed to servile, mechanical); worthy, befitting a gentleman.
  • adj. Generous, willing to give unsparingly;.
  • adj. Ample, abundant; generous in quantity.
  • adj. Unrestrained, licentious.
  • adj. Widely open to new ideas, willing to depart from established opinions or conventions; permissive.
  • adj. Open to political or social changes and reforms associated with either classical or modern liberalism.
  • n. One with liberal views, supporting individual liberty (see Wikipedia's article on Liberalism).
  • n. Someone left-wing; one with a left-wing ideology.
  • n. A supporter of any of several liberal parties.
  • n. One who favors individual voting rights, human and civil rights, individual gun rights, and laissez-faire markets (also called "classical liberal"; compare libertarian).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Free by birth; hence, befitting a freeman or gentleman; refined; noble; independent; free; not servile or mean
  • adj. Bestowing in a large and noble way, as a freeman; generous; bounteous; open-handed.
  • adj. Bestowed in a large way; hence, more than sufficient; abundant; bountiful; ample; profuse
  • adj. Not strict or rigorous; not confined or restricted to the literal sense; free.
  • adj. Not narrow or contracted in mind; not selfish; enlarged in spirit; catholic.
  • adj. Free to excess; regardless of law or moral restraint; licentious.
  • adj. Not bound by orthodox tenets or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; not conservative; friendly to great freedom in the constitution or administration of government; having tendency toward democratic or republican, as distinguished from monarchical or aristocratic, forms
  • n. One who favors greater freedom in political or religious matters; an opponent of the established systems; a reformer; in English politics, a member of the Liberal party, so called. Cf. Whig.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Befitting a freeman, or a state, condition, or situation free from narrow limitations; free in scope; of wide or ample range or extent; not narrowly limited or restricted; expanded; comprehensive: as, a liberal education; the liberal arts or professions; liberal thought or feeling; liberal institutions; a liberal policy in government; a liberal interpretation or estimate.
  • Free in views or opinions; expansive in purpose or aim; not narrow, bigoted, or intolerant; specifically, favorable to personal, political, or religious liberty; opposed to narrow conservatism or undue restriction: as, a liberal thinker; a liberal Christian; a liberal statesman; the Liberal party (in the politics of some countries).
  • Free in bestowal or concession; generously inclined; ready to impart or bestow; bountiful; munificent; magnanimous; followed by with or of before the thing bestowed, and to before the recipient: as, a liberal donor; to be liberal with one's money; to be liberal to an opponent in debate.
  • Freely bestowed or yielded; marked by bounty or abundance; generous; ample: as, a liberal donation; a liberal harvest or flow of water; to make a liberal concession or admission.
  • Free in character or quality; candid; open; hence, with an added implication, unduly free; unrestrained; unchecked; licentious.
  • Synonyms Catholic, tolerant.
  • Charitable, open-handed, free-handed.
  • 4, Full, abundant, plentiful, unstinted.
  • n. A person of liberal principles; one who believes in liberal reforms, or advocates intellectual, political, or religious liberty.
  • n. [capitalized] Specifically, a member of a Liberal party in politics.
  • n. One who holds liberal views in theology.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets
  • adj. not literal
  • adj. having political or social views favoring reform and progress
  • adj. given or giving freely
  • adj. showing or characterized by broad-mindedness
  • adj. tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
  • n. a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties

Etymologies

Middle English, generous, from Old French, from Latin līberālis, from līber, free; see leudh- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
The adjective is from Old French liberal, from Latin liberalis ("befitting a freeman"), from liber ("free"); it is attested since the 14th century. The noun is first attested in the 1800s. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Berlin's concern with the problem of culture anticipated the centrality in political theory of questions of identity and membership that began in the 1990s; his sympathy for the sentiments and needs underlying nationalism, which set him apart from many liberal theorists of his own time, presaged the revival of ˜liberal nationalism™ in the works of younger thinkers such as Michael Walzer, David Miller, Yael Tamir and Michael Ignatieff.

    Isaiah Berlin

  • I seem to recall the phrase "taxation without representation." huh. a democrat calls for higher taxes, and tries to spin it as a moral duty. man! that hardly * ever* happens! ah, well. i'm sure biden - as the 3rd most liberal senate - i'm sure his lust for your money is not shared by obama, who's merely the * most liberal* member of the senate.

    The Agitator

  • I think the use of the term liberal from the short snipit that we are given is not the same liberal that the blogger is useing.

    Who are the Empiricists?, Arnold Kling | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty

  • But the term liberal used in this way evokes a whole narrative that is nearly universal in many fundamentalist/Evangelical circles.

    Brian D. McLaren: Will 'Love Wins' Win? We're Early In The First Inning ...

  • The term liberal in liberal arts is from the Latin word liberalis, meaning "appropriate for free men", and they were contrasted with the servile arts.

    Archive 2007-06-24

  • And the term liberal spreads on both sides of the aisle, since a "liberal" is merely one who "liberally" construes the Constitution bynot consulting it in any mannerwhatsoever.

    Let The Games Begin: Massachusetts Politcos Jockeying For Vacant Senate Seat

  • The word liberal, which is used so pejoratively in our culture right now, has a really rich history and a rich meaning to it.

    Long-Shot Bid Boosted by Liberals

  • One possible problem is that in French, the phrase 'liberal media' very handily translates to 'libéral media,' so you know they're going to trot that one out very early into the new paradigm.

    James Napoli: Let's End Bi-Partisan Hatred by Changing the National Language to French

  • One possible problem is that in French, the phrase 'liberal media' very handily translates to 'libéral media,' so you know they're going to trot that one out very early into the new paradigm.

    James Napoli: Let's End Bi-Partisan Hatred by Changing the National Language to French

  • The Wisconsin liberal is aiming for a comeback with TV ads blasting Mr. Johnson for supposedly wanting to "put insurance companies back in control."

    ObamaCare and the Election

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Comments

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  • The word conservative confuses me, too. Are conservationists conservative? (Amusingly, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado share a river called the Republican; there's even a Republican River Water Conservation District.)

    March 2, 2014

  • oh, you!

    March 1, 2014

  • It is in Kansas, isn't it? SW Kansas!

    February 25, 2014

  • Mundane word for which it's surprisingly hard to find a rhyme.

    February 24, 2014

  • Even WeirdNet gets this one right.

    July 11, 2009

  • Yup. *fight the power*

    July 11, 2009

  • Walter Cronkite: "I think the distinction is both clear and important. I think being a liberal, in the true sense, is being nondoctrinaire, nondogmatic, non-committed to a cause - but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing; it's a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal; if they're not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they're preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can't be very good journalists; that is, if they carry it into their journalism."

    Can we take this term back, somehow?

    July 11, 2009

  • It seems to me that mainstream politics in most developed countries embraces a smaller portion of the political spectrum than ever, due to traditionally left-wing parties moving significantly rightwards, and traditionally right-wing ones moving marginally leftwards; however, the portion of the spectrum covered by the mainstream in Europe certainly remains to the left, fiscally and socially, of the portion covered in America. The centre of course is relative - from a European perspective, both American parties are right of centre.

    September 5, 2008

  • Rolig: this is true. It's because (I think) American politics is just far less extreme, closer to the center, than European politics. There isn't a spectrum from socialism to (for lack of a better term) fascism in the U.S.—we're all, by European or even international standards, politically moderate. Just slightly to the right or left of center.

    "Liberal" does mean "to the left" in the United States, just as "conservative" means "to the right."

    Kewpid, its meaning as "extreme left-wing," which you rightly decry as incorrect, is the meaning ascribed to the word by (mostly conservative) blabbers and dundits. I continue to preach among my fellow humans that "liberal" is not a pejorative and never was. Moreover, I think the majority of Americans (not the media screamers but actual ordinary people who may not even pay attention to politics) are liberal in the sense that they are slightly to the left of center.

    Back to rolig's original post, liberals now use the term "progressive" to try to describe themselves—and hearken back to a period of time when just about everyone rushed to describe themselves as Progressives (even Teddy Roosevelt, who started off about as far from Progressive as one could get). But it hasn't quite caught on, partly because of people like me who keep insisting that liberal is not a pejorative.

    September 4, 2008

  • Which is strange, because from the European perspective, there is no left wing in (mainstream) American politics. If "liberal" is a nasty word in US political discourse, "socialist" is somewhere next to "traitor".

    September 4, 2008

  • ‘liberal’ has somehow come to mean ‘left-wing’ in the US, which is … not right.

    September 4, 2008

  • My spawn wore a t-shirt for a while that had the dictionary definition of "liberal" on it. Lots of spawn's classmates commented that they hadn't known it meant anything good.

    Oh... and it is refutable. :)

    September 4, 2008

  • The liberals did, mjt. No one else.

    September 4, 2008

  • Who allowed this word to be co-opted as a vague, unrefutable pejorative?

    September 4, 2008