Trend Watch

McCain: Nomination Does Not Grant 'Unfettered License to Defame'

The word means means 'not controlled or restricted'


Lookups for unfettered spiked after Senator John McCain issued a statement condemning Donald Trump’s negative comments about the parents of a U.S. Army soldier killed in Iraq:

While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.

McCain (front, right) with his squadron, 1965. A former Navy pilot, McCain spent more than five years as a North Vietnamese prisoner.

Unfettered means “not controlled or restricted” and is a synonym of free and unrestrained. It comes from fetter, which means “a chain or shackle for the feet” and also has the figurative meaning of “restraint,” or something that confines.

Unfettered has been in use in English since at least the beginning of the 17th century, when it was used by Thomas Dekker:

O happy persecution I embrace thee With an vnfettered soule; so sweet a thing It is to sigh upon the racke of love
—Thomas Dekker, Blurt Master-Constable, 1602

The word is a combination of the prefix un- and fetter. Fetter is an old word, going back to Old English, which existed initially as a noun and later became a verb with both a literal meaning of “to put fetters on” and a figurative one of “to restrain form motion, action, or progress." Fetter's Old English ancestor, feter, is etymologically shackled to "fōt," the Old English ancestor of "foot."

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