words that irritate: ‘feel free to…’
November 2, 2006
This is a phrase that really causes my hackles to leap upwards. ‘Feel free to take a brochure.’ Presumably the use of the imperative here is an invitation or a granting of permission rather than an order. In which case, why not simply ‘Please take a brochure’? I don’t need anyone’s permission before I feel something. All I need these wretches to do is to tell me whether taking one of their brochures (presumably without paying for it) is allowed or not. Either I am free to take one of their pathetic bits of publicity or I’m not and if not they should put them under lock and key where my prying fingers can’t reach them. But the weaselly ‘feel free’ doesn’t actually give me permission to take a brochure, it merely allows me to think I can take one. My feelings of freedom could turn out to be unfounded- there could well be a policeman lurking there just waiting to pounce. Their lawyers would have a field day. I imagine a particularly malicious dictator who allows people to ‘feel free’ to do things before calling in the midnight police and banging them up in jail.I can feel free to commit a crime either believing that I can get away with it or just not caring. Feelings can often bear little relation to objective reality- I can feel cold in the summer heat and vice versa. I may feel free even if I am imprisoned in all sorts of ways I am unaware of or choose to overlook.
Anyway, my feelings are my business and they are not things that I expose to any Tom Dick or Harry. As Brassens said, on a slightly different subject: “Je ne fais voir mes organes procréateurs A personne, excepté mes femmes et mes docteurs.” I resent the implication that if I do take one of their wretched bits of publicity it’s because I am sheepishly grateful to them for having given me their permission to harbour feelings of freedom. I imagine fingers pointing in my direction and a whisper running round the asembled crowd ‘look at him, we know what he’s feeling.’
Sadly, that otherwise irreproachable body, the European Commission blotted their copybook with a campaign entitled FEEL FREE TO SAY NO (to tobacco). Enough to make me want to take up smoking, but fortunately the offensively termed campaign is over so I won’t. Having recovered from that, I now read that “British style maven James Dyson plans to open a free school where teenagers can experiment with hands-on projects and problem-solving design’ under the label “Feel Free to Fail.” Not something, I say cynically, in which the average teenager needs much encouragement. Equally insulting to my mind is the slogan of Project Liberty, ‘which was created in 2001 to provide supportive crisis counseling to individuals and groups affected by the World Trade Center disaster:’ ‘Feel Free To Feel Better.’ Do people really have to be told that they are allowed to get over tragedies? The dubious morality of ‘feel free’ is highlighted in this article about Wal-Mart: ‘Wal-Mart: Feel free to steal cheap stuff. – Wal-Mart is altering its zero-tolerance policy and will now only prosecute shoplifters who are between 18 and 64 and try to steal merchandise worth more than $25.’ As my age precludes me from prosecution I shall feel free to leg it over to the US of A and grab as many $24.99 goodies from them as I can stuff in my pockets. That really would be a holiday to remember.