Free delivery

As you’ve been shopping online for Christmas presents, I know you’ve always been happy to see that magic phrase: “free shipping.” You really have to watch for that; especially on less expensive items, shipping & handling costs can add a substantial percentage of the original cost to your order.

A family on our block has a commercial transport company–limousines, a party van, and a few other vehicles are sometimes seen parked by their home. As The Professor and I drove down the block last night, I mistook a white van for a service vehicle, probably from the gas company. But when we drove by, I realized my mistake. “Oh, it’s the just the livery,” I said. (A use of metonymy on my part.)

One of the meanings for “livery” given on, and the sense in which I was using it, is “a company that rents out automobiles, boats, etc.” But this got me to wondering. Is the word “delivery” related to “livery”? And what about “liver”? (That seems far less likely!)

It turns out the answer is yes, at least in the case of delivery and livery. And they are both related to freedom! Livery ultimately comes from the Old French livree which means to hand over, or to free. It’s from the Latin liberare–think liberate. I bet you know that feeling–we experience that every time we land and the livery that is the airline lets us out of the cramped plane!

Delivery is a similar form, coming from the Old French delivree. The use of the word to indicate childbirth is documented from the early 16th century. And I can’t help but notice that the imagery of a child emerging from the birth canal is not so different from a passenger leaving the tube-shaped fuselage and emerging into the light of the terminal.

Liver is not related. It comes either from something akin to “live,” or possibly from the Greek liparos, meaning “fat.” (Your doctor checks your lipid levels, for example.) But in any case. If someone delivered me liver, even for free, I still wouldn’t eat it. Especially for Christmas.

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
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