Wednesday Word

A certain redacted affidavit has been in the news. As far as I know, reporters have not yet explicated the all-important Latin derivation of these newsworthy words. Today’s post remedies the oversight.

Redacted comes from a Latin verb, ago, that appears in a zillion (approximately) derivatives and Latin phrases and idioms. Its participle* is actum. As you might guess, virtually all of our English words containing ­forms of act come from this verb, such as act, action, active, react, re-enact, actual, activate, actor. You get the idea. There are a lot.

Because ago appeared in so many guises, it had many, many meanings, depending on context. This multiplicity of meanings, by the way, drives Latin students crazy. How can the same verb mean “drive,” “lead,” “do,” “act,” “pass,” “spend,” “incite,” “intend,” “perform,” “plead,” and with the noun gratias, “thank”?  The answer is context, my friend. It all depends on the idiom. For the sake of comparison, consider our verb put. I can put my coffee down on the table or I can put you down, I can put off an unpleasant duty and be put off by your attitude, I am put out when things don’t go my way, I can tell you to put a cork in it, and I can put on the dog for a night on the town. What, then, does put mean? Hmmm? So don’t blame Latin for tiny little ago and its heavy load of meaning.

Latin, like English, had many words rooted in ago and actum. Redigo and its participle redactum was one of them. See where we’re going with this?

Redigo combines re-, meaning “back” or “again,” and our new favorite Latin verb ago. (The “d” in the middle means nothing; it helps make the verb pronounceable.) A redaction is a “driving back” or  “reduction.” In its simplest sense, redacting means “editing.” As you know, its usage these days implies editing out troublesome, sensitive, or libelous material. Those long blackened lines!

Its partner in crime, affidavit, is an actual Latin verb, the third person singular perfect tense form of affidare, meaning “to swear.” Another meaning, “to promise fidelity,” reveals the inner root word fides, which means “trust” or “faith” (as in semper fidelis) and which will help you spell affidavit correctly from this day forward (i.e., no affadavit). In Latin, affidavit means “he or she has sworn.” In the law, an affidavit is a written sworn statement. In the case of the affidavit in the news, it’s a written sworn statement by an FBI special agent. He or she has sworn to tell the truth.

If you’re interested in reading the unredacted sections of the aforementioned affidavit, here it is.

*In case you’ve forgotten your grammar, a participle (the perfect passive participle, for our purposes) is a verb form usually used as an adjective or as part of a verb in a sentence. The participle of drive, for example, is driven. The participle of shrive is shriven. The participle of dive is (ha!) dived.

Questions, comments, and written sworn statements are welcome.

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2 Responses to Wednesday Word

  1. Kathy says:

    Though I knew how to spell it, I like Jacquie thought “arable” had something to do with “aerating” (another spelling!) and “air.” Apparently not, though, because the root of “arable” is the Latin verb meaning “to plow,” and the “air” words seem to have another root. In usage, arable land is distinguished from wooded land, also reinforcing that it has more to do with plowing than aerating.

  2. Roger Talbott says:

    So fun to read about these “partners in crime” to mimic your tongue-in-cheek style. I think I will now spell affidavit correctly. Although I hope I shall never have an occasion to use that knowledge. Speaking of spelling. Jacquie, a couple of days ago, said she was surprised to learn that the word “arable” was not spelled “airable.” Apparently she had only heard the word and not seen it written. She reasoned that it was land that was plowed up and had air in it. I gather that she is not entirely wrong about the plowing. She was a much better Latin student than I was, but I knew how to spell it because . . . farm boy.

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