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To get rid of something according to OALD means to make oneself free of someone or something that is annoying. One can get rid of old useless things by throwing them away or of bad habits.

There is also a verb to rid. etymonline has to rid, ca. 1200, meaning to clear (a space), to set free, to save. A connection is drawn to a verb in Old Norse that means to clear land of obstructions, old variants of Germanic languages are given, but modern German Land roden meaning to prepare a field or a path by eliminating trees is lacking.

According to the dictionary the expression to get rid of something is younger, dated around 1660. My view is that rid in to get rid of something is connected with the verb free and the form freed, past participle or adjective which we also have in modern German befreit.

One may imagine that a form like rid can develop from freed by dropping f and shortening the vowel.

I would not connect the expression to get rid of something with the idea of clearing land as in German roden, I think a connection with freed is much more plausible. But I think the derivations of the two word families free and to clear land (as in German roden) have become so similar that in English a separation is very difficult.

Question: What is more probable, the idea of clearing land or a connection with freed?

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You write, "One may imagine that a form like rid can develop from freed by dropping f and shortening the vowel". As a theory that's fine as far as it goes, but do you have any actual evidence for your supposition? – Erik Kowal May 7 '14 at 4:01
Right you are. Was too occupied with formulating my theory clearly and forgot my question. I'll add it. – rogermue May 7 '14 at 4:04
You also need to look into the verb redd < OE hrȩddan. Disentangling that from the ModE rid < ME ruden < ON ryðja may not be completely possible. – tchrist May 7 '14 at 4:09
@Erich Kowal Would be fine if we had evidence for everything in etymology. Mostly etymological explanations are based on older word forms that have a similar shape, even when sometimes the semantic connection is dubious. And in such cases it is reasonable to look for other possibilities and for such hypotheses there is no evidence. – rogermue May 7 '14 at 4:18
Do you have any other examples of English losing an initial f in any word? I know of none. I can see no reason whatsoever that the adjective rid should not be related to the verb rid with the same basic meaning. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 7 '14 at 6:20

3 Answers 3

I would say no.

First of all, all the related words in the etymonline reference do lack the initial 'f', and your alternative theory will have to "cut" rid out of the very plausible migration of the word in that entry.

But more importantly, if you claim that rid was formed from "freed" by losing its initial f and a shortening of the vowel, then why on earth do we still use the word freed in its current form, with the initial f and with the long vowel? Actually, we also use expression like "get free of something", "I got freed of that burden".

How many examples do you have where a specific form of a word (here, the participle of a verb) undergoes several changes in pronunciation, and after those changes, is used concurrently with the exact original form of the same word, in the same meaning?

Now, if we were to see words like "riddom", "a rid man", "re drinks", I would be inclined to accept the possibility that those originated in an older form that had and extra f and a longer vowel.
Last time I checked, I didn't notice many of those forms though :)

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It's a pity Low German, Frisian, Dutch, English Dialects and Scottish are not presented on the Internet in a way that it is possible to search for answers. Anyway, I think, if a formulation like to become freed of sth would have changed to *rid of sth" nobody would be able to say where it came from. – rogermue May 8 '14 at 15:00
Of course, I mean Lowland Scots, not Scottish. – rogermue May 8 '14 at 15:12
As for the Dutch, free is vrij, and in all of its uses, it retains a long vowel and the initial v remains. In Dutch and German, freed gets a prefix be- (bevrijd, befreit), which also is not disappearing in any participles that have it. – oerkelens May 8 '14 at 16:30
From ʒour flyting, wald God, that I wer fred [: red]; Can anyone say what red in brackets after fred means? This is a quote from the Scots dictionary, to fre, number 2. – rogermue May 8 '14 at 16:59
The [: red] means that From ʒour flyting, wald God, that I wer fred comes from a poem where fred rhymes with red. – Peter Shor May 8 '14 at 17:09

The meaning of rid is "to remove". It has no realation to "freed". When you "get rid of" something, you are literally removing it. This may have a sense of being freeing, but it is not related etymologically.

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Semantically a source that means to become freed of sth would be more plausible than a source that actually means to remove trees and tree stumps from a wooded area. But I'm almost sure that definite evidence for such a hyothesis is impossible to find. – rogermue May 8 '14 at 15:18

From ʒour flyting, wald God, that I wer fred [: red];Dictionary of Scots, verb to fre

I have just found DSL, the Dictionary of the Scots Language.There I found the verb to fre with the past participle fred, meaning to free/freed. The past participle has compared to English freed a short vowel e. I think a change to i would easily be possible. It would be more difficult to find a reason why the f in fred/*frid should get lost. But particular historical change, especially when dialects get in contact with each other or transformation to another similar word are not impossible in etymology. I can't understand every word of Scots, but as a German with some knowledge of Low German and Dutch I've got the gist of the entry. I think number 2 of the entry to fre is interesting.

What I would like is to get entries for German befreit von in various dictionaries as Scots, Low German, Frisian, Dutch and some English dialects of the north. But that would be a lot of research work. Edit: Can anyone explain to me what red in brackets after fred means. Number 2 in the Scots dictionary:

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Now I have made a mess of my post. The quote from the Scots dictionary that I wanted to put at the end of the post has appeared on top and has eliminated the link to the Scots dictionary. Here's the link again: – rogermue May 8 '14 at 16:47
The notation "[: red]" means that in this quotation, fred comes from a poem where it rhymes with red. See here... – Peter Shor May 8 '14 at 17:00
Also in the entry for fred, they have the notation "[: bred]". See here. These are incredibly useful for determining the pronunciation, but really don't advance your thesis at all. They don't indicate that the "f" could be dropped. – Peter Shor May 8 '14 at 17:02

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