Franchise Lawyer Blog

Whence “Franchise,” Anyway?

Understandably, much more attention is given to the present and future of franchising than to the past, but this entry considers (very briefly) the origins of franchises. Not the start of the practice, though, but rather the etymology of the word franchise.

In short, going backward in time, the word “franchise” comes to modern English by way of Middle English fraunchise (circa 1290), from Old French franchise (“freedom”), from franche, the feminine of franc, from Late Latin francus, meaning, simply, “free” (or “exempt”; francus is also the root of “frank”—open, honest—and, some argue, even “France” itself.)

Coming back again to the present, the meaning of “franchise” narrowed to “a particular legal privilege” in the eighteenth century… then, in 1790, to “the right to vote” (that being a particularly particular legal privilege). The meaning of franchise of “the authorization by a company to sell its products or services” dates from 1959. (It does not appear any other specific milestone in franchising was reached in that year, though the International Franchise Association was founded in 1960.)

Notably, when a business franchise arrangement comes to an end, if it is because of something inappropriate that the franchisee has done, generally we speak of the default and termination of the franchisee by the franchisor. We do not typically refer to his or her disenfranchisement, that term being reserved for the (usually unnecessary) fate that befalls one who loses the right to vote, which is most commonly the result of a failure to reregister when required… something to keep in mind this election season.

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