free rein

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English[edit]

Noun[edit]

free rein (uncountable)

  1. loose rein, as of a horse
    • 1884, Elizabeth Platt Karr, "The American Horsewoman", page 256,
      she should simply hold the reins so lightly that his mouth can just be felt, which is called "giving a free rein."
    • 1910, Virgil (translated into English by Theodore C. Williams), page 8,
      So ceased the sea's uproar, when its grave Sire
      Looked o'er th' expanse, and, riding on in light,
      Flung free rein to his winged obedient car.
  2. (idiomatic) the absence of constraints; freedom to make decisions
    • 1913, Charles George Herbermann, Edward Aloysius Pace, Condé Bénoist Pallen, Thomas Joseph Shahan, John Joseph Wynne, "The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church", page 647,
      securing for himself an undivided authority and a free rein for his profligacy.
    • 1861 New York Times, Aug 6, SLAVERY AND THE WAR.,SPEECH OF WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ., AT THE CELEBRATION OF WEST INDIES EMANCIPATION
      Help the Government to dare to give free rein to the ardor of the people.
    • 1790 Thomas Pennant in Of London page 47
      Chaucer gave a free rein to his poetical mirth

Usage notes[edit]

Those who have free rein by virtue of being in a position of authority also have free reign (an eggcorn).

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