In this post, I’m going to dive into etymology and a little bit of comparative linguistics, but I assure you that it will be interesting! Then, I’m going to consider what this etymological safari can tell us about being affirmed.
Etymonline tells us that the roots of our modern English word affirmationn are in Latin. It combines the prefix ad (meaning ‘to’) and firmare (strengthen and make firm) and that affirmation means an ‘assertion that something is true’. If we continue our investigation with firmadj, again we find a Latin origin firmus meaning ‘strong, steadfast, enduring, stable’. OUP tells us that an affirmation is ‘a definite or public statement that something is true or that you support something strongly’.
I’ve just returned home from an appointment during which I validated my identity in order to be able to use the firma digital (or digital signature) system here in Spain. In modern Spanish, we find the verb firmar which means ‘to sign’ or ‘to give strength’. We also find the cognates confirmar and afirmar The first meaning of afirmar means to ‘give strength’ and the second meaning is ‘to give assurance’.
Please bear with me a little longer, I assure you that it’ll be worth it. I dived into the University of Wales Dictionary of the Welsh language (online) to look up the etymology of cadarnhau (the Welsh translation for the verbs affirm/confirm) and found that it too derives from a meaning connected with firmness and strength (see here). The noun form cadarn can be translated into English as ‘mighty one, strong one, warrior, giant’ (see here). I’m not an expert on Welsh morphology nor etymology, but my ear can’t help hearing a connection with cadairn which translates as ‘chair or stronghold’ and derives from the same Latin root as the word from which English gets cathedral (and the buildings we call cathedrals get their name from the chair or throne on which a Bishop, a source of power, authority and confirmation, sits).
So, when we offer someone our affirmation, what are we doing? When we feel affirmed by another, what is that we are experiencing? The word that kept popping up through my etymological tangent is strong (or, in noun form, strength). When we provide affirmation, we are giving strength. Perhaps this us why we value affirmation so much, we can derive strength from those affirming words, or perhaps just from an affirming look or gesture. When we transmit affirmation to our students, we are transmitting strength and power, we are transmitting a sense of truth and we are offering our support.
What is affirmation? It’s strength; firmness; stability; endurance; truth; (public) support; a signature; assurance; giants and warriors; a chair.