In his entry for the word liberation in Keywords, his seminal inquiry into the changing meanings of 131 keywords in English, Raymond Williams notes the parallel development in English from words derived from Latin liber and Teutonic freo (the source of freedom). He explains that in both cases the meaning depended on an opposing term: in Latin, servus, ‘slave’, and in the Teutonic languages ‘those outside the household’, who were also in practice slaves. He goes on to say that ‘the extended political senses have developed mainly around the Latin group’ in producing words like liberty, liberal, libertarian,and liberation.
The word freedom comes from Teutonic frei originating in the Indo-European root prai, ‘beloved’, hence ‘precious’ and also ‘at peace with’. Sanskrit priya, ‘dear’, comes from the same root. The name Godfrey means ‘peace of God’. Norse Freya or Frija is the Goddess of love. Old English freond from the same root is more than ‘friend’, also ‘lover’. The original meaning of free was a term of affection uniting the members of a family in a common bond, but explicitly excluding their servants, serfs, or slaves. Later, the meaning shifted from ‘affection’ to ‘freedom’.
The word liberty comes through Latin liber, ‘free’, from the Indo-European root leudh, still intact in the ancient Greek word eleutheros, ‘free’, applied to free-born citizens and not slaves. The original sense was ‘mount up, grow, rise’, applied to the population, as still in German Leute, ‘people’, and Lettish, a native or citizen ofLatvia. The semantic development from the sense of ‘grow, rise’ to ‘freedom’ is not altogether clear. To ‘deliver’ something is etymologically to ‘set it free’ (as in ‘deliver us from evil’) but its meaning shifted to ‘give up, surrender’ and finally ‘hand over’ or ‘provide’.