What does “free rental” mean online?

Two women arguing, one pointing to the forehead.
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This internet slang phrase has nothing to do with a free place to spend the night. Free rent has become one of the Internet’s most beloved insults in recent years, and here’s why.

live in the spirit

Free rent is one of the most interesting online slang terms to emerge in recent years. It means “to live inside someone’s head” and is commonly used to insult someone who seems obsessed to an unhealthy degree. Alternatively, some people see it as a way to deflect criticism on the internet.

This slang term is a variant of the standard definition of the phrase. According to the Oxford Dictionary, rent-free means “not to pay or demand rent”. So, for example, if a friend lets you sleep on their couch for a day, you would call your place rent-free. One thing to note is that the common word is usually spelled with a hyphen or “rent-free”, while the slang term is usually spelled without the hyphen or “rent free”.

An essential part of the analogy is that the person you are thinking of should not be thinking of you. Maybe it’s because they’re famous, so they have no idea who you are. It could also be because they bother you a lot more than you bother them, so there’s no reason for them to pay attention to you. That’s why they live there “rent-free”, because they don’t have to “pay” attention to you, and yet they stay in your mind.

The origin of free rent

The idea of ​​”free rent” referring to someone living in your mind predates the internet. The phrase is attributed to Eppie Lederer, who wrote, “Clinging to resentment is letting someone you despise live free in your head.” Since then, free rent saw little use in literature and media until it took off on the internet.

Unlike the other internet slang terms we’ve covered, this expression is a very recent phenomenon. It was popularized on the internet in 2018, two decades after pioneers developed the first internet slang terms. It rose to prominence on Twitter, a platform notorious for its obsession and protracted, slur-like discussions, and eventually made its way to the rest of the internet. The first definition on Urban Dictionary was added in July 2018 and reads: “live inside the head of someone who can’t stop thinking about you”.

In October 2018, Buzzfeed News dubbed it “The perfect insult of our time,” referring to the tendency of many internet users to get obsessively sucked into people or things they shouldn’t care about. Somehow anyone who’s been on the internet has had an irrational obsession with something or someone that takes up way too much of their minds.

Rent for free online

On the internet, people typically deploy “rent free” in spaces with a lot of public discourse, like Twitter. The platform is well known for having users who are incredibly eager to share their opinions on everything. However, if users repeatedly post about something they hate, they can be accused of having someone living rent-free in their head.

You can also use it when someone has an absurdly petty grudge. For example, a restaurant forgot to serve someone breadsticks at the start of a meal, then repeatedly complained about it on social media for years. For the most part, that’s not a problem, so you could say the restaurant lives in their heads rent-free.

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Who lives there?

Now that you know what this phrase means, you might be wondering “in what context would this even be used?” »

You can use this phrase for just about anything. A daily use case is in sports, where the most famous players are often the most criticized and talked about. If an opposing team’s fan repeatedly talks about how much he hates a starting player, then that player’s fans may say, “he lives without rent in your head.”

You can also use it as a personal insult, perhaps to tell your friend that you’re tired of hearing from someone. For example, if your friend is complaining about his ex-girlfriend of six months, you might say “she’s living without rent.” It allows you to point out that he seems absurdly obsessed with someone who is no longer in his life.

How to use free rental

Do you want to use free rent for your Internet arguments? It’s pretty simple – all you have to do is tell someone that living rent-free is their obsession in their head. Alternatively, the term has become so mainstream over the past few years that you could respond with “free rental” and get the message across.

Here are some examples of this phrase in action:

  • “They live without rent in your head.”
  • “Stop talking about your teacher, he lives without rent.”
  • “Lebron James is living rent-free in all your heads.”

Do you want to expand your Internet vocabulary even more? Then read up on WBK, ELI5, and SRSLY, and you’ll be a web-speaker soon enough.

RELATED: What does “SRSLY” mean and how do you use it?


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