Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Favoring reform, open to new ideas, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; not bound by traditional thinking; broad-minded. synonym: broad-minded.
  • adjective Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
  • adjective 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.
  • adjective Tending to give freely; generous.
  • adjective Generous in amount; ample.
  • adjective Not strict or literal; loose or approximate.
  • adjective Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum.
  • adjective Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
  • adjective Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
  • noun A person with liberal ideas or opinions.
  • noun A member of a Liberal political party.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun One who holds liberal views in theology.
  • 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.
  • noun A person of liberal principles; one who believes in liberal reforms, or advocates intellectual, political, or religious liberty.
  • noun [capitalized] Specifically, a member of a Liberal party in politics.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun 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.
  • adjective Free by birth; hence, befitting a freeman or gentleman; refined; noble; independent; free; not servile or mean
  • adjective Bestowing in a large and noble way, as a freeman; generous; bounteous; open-handed.
  • adjective Bestowed in a large way; hence, more than sufficient; abundant; bountiful; ample; profuse
  • adjective Not strict or rigorous; not confined or restricted to the literal sense; free.
  • adjective Not narrow or contracted in mind; not selfish; enlarged in spirit; catholic.
  • adjective Free to excess; regardless of law or moral restraint; licentious.
  • adjective 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
  • adjective See under Art.
  • adjective education that enlarges and disciplines the mind and makes it master of its own powers, irrespective of the particular business or profession one may follow.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective 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.
  • adjective Generous, willing to give unsparingly;.
  • adjective Ample, abundant; generous in quantity.
  • adjective obsolete Unrestrained, licentious.
  • adjective Widely open to new ideas, willing to depart from established opinions or conventions; permissive.
  • adjective politics Open to political or social changes and reforms associated with either classical or modern liberalism.
  • noun One with liberal views, supporting individual liberty (see Wikipedia's article on Liberalism).
  • noun Someone left-wing; one with a left-wing ideology.
  • noun A supporter of any of several liberal parties.
  • noun US One who favors individual voting rights, human and civil rights, individual gun rights, and laissez-faire markets (also called "classical liberal"; compare libertarian).

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

  • noun a person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets
  • adjective not literal
  • adjective having political or social views favoring reform and progress
  • adjective given or giving freely
  • adjective showing or characterized by broad-mindedness

Etymologies

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

[Middle English, generous, from Old French, from Latin līberālis, from līber, free; see leudh- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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

Comments

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

    September 4, 2008

  • The liberals did, mjt. No one else.

    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

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

    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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Yup. *fight the power*

    July 11, 2009

  • Even WeirdNet gets this one right.

    July 11, 2009