Words-worth: Franchise

'Franchise' has a noble past. An Old French word meaning 'freedom', it came to English in the late 13th century.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

It came to mean a privilege or right, and is still in use to refer to the right to vote, as in 'the franchise was extended to women only in the 20th century'. In a business sense, it is first recorded in Britain in 1959, when a man was given the right to run a barber's shop in a hotel. Since the '60s, though, it has meant an agreement whereby a company allows another firm to sell its products or services in exchange for fees or royalty payments. Some trace the system to the Middle Ages, when the church licensed tax collectors to gather tithes on its behalf, or to the late 19th century, when Coca-Cola founder John S Pemberton licensed others to bottle and sell his product. In our day, franchising is a global phenomenon, especially in fast food. The word has taken on a sinister air, though, with observers describing Al-Qaeda's semi-autonomous offshoots around the world as its 'franchises'.

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