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[free-hwee-ling, -wee-] /ˈfriˈʰwi lɪŋ, -ˈwi-/
operating in the manner of a freewheel.
(of a person) moving about freely, independently, or irresponsibly.
(of words, remarks, actions, etc.) unrestrained; irresponsible:
Loose, freewheeling charges were traded during the argument.
Origin of freewheeling
First recorded in 1900-05; freewheel + -ing2


[free-hweel, -weel] /ˈfriˈʰwil, -ˈwil/
a device in the transmission of a motor vehicle that automatically disengages the drive shaft whenever it begins to turn more rapidly than the engine.
a form of rear bicycle wheel that has a device freeing it from the driving mechanism, as when the pedals are stopped in coasting.
verb (used without object)
(of a vehicle or its operator) to coast with the wheels disengaged from the driving mechanism.
to move or function freely, independently, unconcernedly, or the like (often followed by about, through, around, etc.):
The two friends freewheeled around the country after graduation.
First recorded in 1895-1900; free + wheel Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for free-wheeling
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The conversation was free-wheeling and we got onto all sorts of topics.

    The Night of the Long Knives Fritz Reuter Leiber
  • A minute later she was free-wheeling down the hill that led through the village in the direction of Petteridge Court.

  • There was an exaltation in free-wheeling down the hills, flying through the air like birds.

    Loyal to the School Angela Brazil
  • You're the first full-fledged, wide-open, free-wheeling psi-high that's ever appeared in human history.

    Second Sight

    Alan Edward Nourse
  • Once more he had the sensation of coasting or free-wheeling down a pleasant hill of perfect companionship.

    Overlooked Maurice Baring
  • You're a free-wheeling, wide-swinging, hard-hitting, independent entity—monarch of all you survey—captain of your soul and so on.

    Masters of Space Edward Elmer Smith
  • Consequently, much higher speeds are attained on the level, and free-wheeling down hill is much faster.

  • For the first time in his life he pedalled instead of free-wheeling the conclusion of the ride.

    If Winter Comes A.S.M. Hutchinson
British Dictionary definitions for free-wheeling


a ratchet device in the rear hub of a bicycle wheel that permits the wheel to rotate freely while the pedals are stationary
a device in the transmission of some vehicles that automatically disengages the drive shaft when it rotates more rapidly than the engine shaft, so that the drive shaft can turn freely
(intransitive) to coast in a vehicle or on a bicycle using the freewheel


relating to, operating as, or having a freewheel; coasting
(informal) free of restraints; carefree or uninhibited
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for free-wheeling



1903, from free wheel (1899, see free (adj.) + wheel); a bicycle wheel that turns even when not being pedaled, later from the name of a kind of automobile drive system that allowed cars to coast without being slowed by the engine. Figurative sense is from 1911.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for free-wheeling



  1. : Jonathan himself tries opium, hash, freewheeling sex, gliders
  2. : the free-wheeling out-of-towner


  1. Independence of action and initiative; blithe and unconstrained indulgence: No free-wheeling here, you do things strictly our way
  2. Liberal spending; easy munificence: the free-wheeling of the new rich

[fr the feature of certain 1930s cars permitting them to coast freely without being slowed by the engine]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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