Dr. Anthony Fauci recently appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. To tout the new Covid booster, the two men strolled to a nearby Walgreens, where Dr. F. took one for the team. In his left arm, that is.
He referred to this new shot as bivalent. You probably know that this vaccine targets both the old Covid variant and the more recent omicron version, hence the bi-. But did you know that -valent derives from the Latin verb valeo, which means “be well” and “be strong”? The new vaccine is being strong twice.
If you want your little girl to be powerful, you could name her Valeria, or the more common modern variant Valerie. Her brother could be Valerius. These names would make them valiant, no question. Valid, validation, and valor belong to the same word family.
In chemistry, valence refers to the power of atoms to combine. In ordinary discourse, this word means “power” or “ability,” as in, “The conclusion of Casablanca possesses an overpowering emotional valence.”
Ambivalence feels weak, not powerful, but the word denotes powerful feelings on both sides of an issue. I hate when that happens. Its cousin equivalence means equal power. There are also prevalence, polyvalence, convalescence, and more!
We might think that valedictorian must have something to do with a high grade point average, but a closer look reveals that this high-achiever’s honor is to say (dico) goodbye. Vale in Latin means, literally, “farewell.” It’s a command: Be strong. (How should I fare? Well!) The phrase ave atque vale translates “hail and goodbye” or more loosely “I salute you and goodbye.” The English poet Algernon Swinburne titled his tribute to Charles Baudelaire with this phrase. The last stanza begins, “For thee, O now a silent soul, my brother,/Take at my hands this garland, and farewell.” Vale (pronounced wall-ay) says goodbye to one person. Valete (wall-ay-tay), as in the title above, says goodbye to a bunch of people.
The moral of these etymologies is to go get your booster, before Covid makes a fall comeback. Don’t be ambivalent. The shot’s bivalence will make you stronger.