1 : not called for by the circumstances : not necessary, appropriate, or justified : unwarranted
2 a : given unearned or without recompense
b : costing nothing : free
c law : not involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration
Did You Know?
Like gratitude, grace, and congratulate, gratuitous is a descendant of the Latin word gratus, which means “pleasing” or “grateful.” When gratuitous was first used in the 17th century, it meant “free” or “given without return benefit or compensation.” The extended meaning “done without good reason” or “unwarranted” came about just a few decades later, perhaps from the belief held by some people that one should not give something without getting something in return. Today, that extended meaning is the more common sense, employed, for example, when graphic cruelty depicted in a work of fiction is described as “gratuitous violence,” or when unkind words better left unsaid are described as “a gratuitous insult.”
“The language of lawyers often disparagingly referred to as legalese is abstruse, verbose, rife with gratuitous Latin phrases, and designed to create a linguistic barrier between lawyers and non-lawyers.” — Mark A. Cohen, Forbes, 3 Mar. 2020