software libre

Libre Office

libre software

I want to be/stay/feel libre.

Do native English people understand this word or not?

  • 4
    I think any answers to this must inevitably be Primarily Opinion-Based Jul 15, 2013 at 16:38
  • Even though I have enough Latin to figure out what "libre" means, I cannot for the life of me assign any logical meaning to "Libre Office".
    – Martha
    Jul 15, 2013 at 18:21
  • 1
    @Martha Office = A room, set of rooms, or building used as a place for commercial, professional, or bureaucratic work. So, you mean like the office cannot be "free" (as in free speech) and is always controlled by some "higher" entity like your boss etc. ?
    – Derfder
    Jul 15, 2013 at 18:25
  • Yup. I don't know if it's understood by all native speakers of English, though.
    – user230
    Jul 15, 2013 at 18:37
  • I would understand "Libre Office" as the trading name for the product (libreoffice.org) not as the adjective "libre" applied to the noun "office".
    – Matt
    Jul 15, 2013 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


While some native speakers would be able to guess the meaning of libre from its context, particularly those who know Latin or Italian, others will not. If you said I want to be libre in a conversation with native speakers, probably most of them would not know what you mean.

  • What about this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libre . According to this it is a borrowed word and therefore part of English.
    – Derfder
    Jul 15, 2013 at 9:27
  • 1
    @Derfder. The word is in current use in the areas of software and copyright, and will probably be understood by most people concerned with those fields, but it is not in use as synonym for free in general statements, such as I want to stay libre. (I have edited my answer to remove the too bold assertion in the first sentence that the word is not to be found in English dictionaries.)
    – Shoe
    Jul 15, 2013 at 10:09
  • 5
    As evidence that it is not well understood, those in the Free Software community still specify using the phrase "Free as in 'free speech', not free as in 'free beer'".
    – TecBrat
    Jul 15, 2013 at 10:53
  • 3
    I think @TecBrat is spot-on. A lot of Free Software activists wish that "libre" were widely understood (full disclosure: I'm one of them), since it would make communicating about free software a lot easier. Therefore, you might see a lot of people online making trying to make it become widely understood, but that doesn't mean that it is widely understood.
    – apsillers
    Jul 15, 2013 at 13:40

No, "libre" is not a commonly used English word. As others have said, some people might recognize an English cognate like "liberty," but many people will not.

The word is used largely in the Free Software community to distinguish easily between zero-cost ("gratis") and free-as-in-freedom ("libre"), but outside of that particular community, the word is unlikely to be widely understood. Since the Free Software community communicates mostly online and is very vocal, you may see a high use of the word "libre" online, but you should not assume that this means that many English speakers are familiar with the term.

As user TecBrat points out, the verbose Free Software slogan "free as in free speech, not free as in free beer" would have died out if the much shorter "libre" could have replaced it.

  • aps, rather than "liberty" could English speakers hearing "libre" think of something like "librate", first?
    – user114
    Jul 15, 2013 at 21:01
  • 1
    @Carlo_R. I can only speak for myself, but even though the words are related, I definitely don't think of liberate when I think of libre. It's plausible that someone else might make that association, though. (I assume you didn't actually mean the rare word librate, which I wouldn't expect a native speaker to understand, let alone think of by association.)
    – user230
    Jul 16, 2013 at 8:58

Personally, I have NEVER heard someone use "libre" as an English word. I had a little Latin in school so I know the meaning of the Latin word, and I suppose many English-speakers might guess the meaning as our word "liberty" derives from it. But you could say that about many foreign words -- someone who speaks language A might know or guess the meaning of a word from language B because he's heard foreign words here and there or because there's a related word in his own language.

The Wikipedia article that Derfider references gives the impression that this is a word in common use in English. It's not. Perhaps it's well-understood in certain limited communities as a technical term, but it is not familiar to most English-speakers. I checked several English dictionaries and none listed it.

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