Verbing affidavit

A few days ago a friend in the legal pro­fes­sion post­ed on Face­book express­ing his frus­tra­tion with the awk­ward and cum­ber­some (and oft-used) phrase “swore an affi­davit” and won­dered if there was per­haps some for­got­ten or neglect­ed verb form that would allow him to express this same mean­ing with a sin­gle word. He quick­ly scrounged up affy as a pos­si­bil­i­ty, which (spoil­er alert!) is prob­a­bly the clos­est thing we are going to find to what he (and now I) are look­ing for. But I just plain don’t like affy, and thus the fol­low­ing.

Affi­davit is a Latin verb form, specif­i­cal­ly the third per­son sin­gu­lar per­fect indica­tive active of the verb affi­dare, a late Latin (i.e. Mediæ­val) verb mean­ing ‘to give faith, to pledge, to prove by oath’. It’s migra­tion into legal Eng­lish is uncom­pli­cat­ed: a head­ing indi­cat­ing that “he/she has sworn” fol­lowed by the sub­stance of that oath-backed asser­tion was bound to become a main­stay of legal doc­u­men­ta­tion in the devel­op­ment of the com­mon law sys­tem. But it is as I already not­ed a late addi­tion to the lan­guage: a com­pound of the prepo­si­tion ad, towards, and the verb fido, fidere,’ to trust, con­fide, put faith in (someone/something).’ Clas­si­cal Latin also had the com­pound con­fi­do, con­fidere, ‘to trust con­fi­dent­ly in some­thing, con­fide in, rely firm­ly upon, to believe, be assured of’. Why the con­struc­tion of affi­dare involved the shift­ing of con­ju­ga­tion is beyond my lin­guis­tic knowl­edge and resources (although it is, I think, fur­ther evi­dence if any were need­ed that the Mediæ­vals were most­ly crap at Latin, and just made it up as they went along).

But what of the Eng­lish verb we are look­ing for? Did any oth­er words come into the lan­guage along­side affi­davit? If so, where were they? The word I real­ly want­ed to find was **affide. It just makes sense to me that just as con­fide devel­oped quite direct­ly from con­fidere, there should be a verb devel­oped in par­al­lel from affi­dare. But, for what­ev­er rea­son, it does­n’t seem to have hap­pened in the liv­ing lan­guage. Maybe it is due to the late­ness of affi­dare appear­ing in Latin, when that tongue was already on the decline as a ver­nac­u­lar. Or per­haps the curi­ous shift from the Sec­ond Con­ju­ga­tion to the First in the for­ma­tion of affi­dare itself con­fused things and derailed the pro­gres­sion. In any case, I don’t find affide in any dic­tio­nary or lex­i­con that I can lay hands on.

(While I can find no author­i­ta­tive attes­ta­tion to it, a Google search did turn up a very small num­ber of occur­rences of affide, only one of which was in the pre­cise con­text and sense as what I was hop­ing for: a motion filed in a case before the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2007 (State of Ohio ex rel. Deb­o­rah S. Reese vs. Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Board of Elec­tions et al.), which includ­ed the asser­tion that “it would not be prop­er for the Rela­tor to affide to such mat­ters.” Hard to tell, though, if this a legit­i­mate use of a real live word that even dic­tio­nar­ies have for­got­ten, or if it just an iso­lat­ed exam­ple of a legal drafter in the Buck­eye State “going Mediæ­val” and mak­ing up a word on the fly, either delib­er­ate­ly or with­out think­ing about it. )

I want to take a moment here to cred­it a fan­tas­tic source I hap­pi­ly dis­cov­ered in pulling this post togeth­er. Alexan­der M. Bur­rill, A New Law Dic­tio­nary and Glos­sary: Con­tain­ing Full Def­i­n­i­tions of the Prin­ci­pal Terms of the Com­mon and Civ­il Law, Togeth­er with Trans­la­tions and Expla­na­tions of the Var­i­ous Tech­ni­cal Phras­es in DIf­fer­ent Lan­guages, Occur­ring in the Ancient and Mod­ern Reports, and Stan­dard Trea­tis­es; Embrac­ing also all the Prin­ci­pal Com­mon and Civ­il Law Max­ims, Part I (New York: John S. Vorhies, 1850). It is avail­able free in its entire­ty through Google Books, along with the sec­ond vol­ume which I have not yet had time or occa­sion to inspect.

It is in Bur­ril­l’s work that I found a solu­tion that sat­is­fies me in my legal con­text, although it may not be what my coun­ter­parts on the com­mon law side of things would like.

The par­ty mak­ing an affi­davit is usu­al­ly described as “the depo­nent,” (some­times, but rarely, “the affi­ant,” (q.v.) and in mak­ing his state­ments is said to depose—(“being duly sworn, depos­es and says,”)—but an affi­davit is dis­tin­guished from a depo­si­tion, prop­er­ly so called, by the cir­cum­stance that it is always made ex parte, and with­out any cross-exam­i­na­tion. (p. 49)

So, if I were plan­ning my for­mal vocab­u­lary for my own legal prax­is, I think I will prob­a­bly say “The wit­ness deposed that the lazy fox had no tail.” But if my friend prefers to say that his wit­ness “affied to the verac­i­ty of his state­ment,” then I can only say that the his­to­ry of our lan­guage sup­ports him, and I salute his efforts to res­cue anoth­er lone­ly Eng­lish word from neglect­ful obscu­ri­ty. If you doubt my sin­cer­i­ty, I would be hap­py to **affide this fact to any­one.

Owning and Possessing in a Digital World

We live in curi­ous and con­fus­ing times, as have pret­ty much all our ances­tors through­out all of record­ed his­to­ry. Some lines that once seemed clear are always start­ing to blur, and that is always going to make us uncom­fort­able to some extent, although we all have vary­ing degrees of tol­er­ance for such unease, espe­cial­ly when with it come excite­ment and the promise of new and bet­ter (?) things just ahead.

My friend (and cousin-in-law) Dave Schwartz asked a very inter­est­ing ques­tion on his blog yes­ter­day morn­ing: what does it mean to own a book? He describes his expe­ri­ence of recent­ly pur­chas­ing phys­i­cal copies of three books he already owned in e‑book form, and won­ders what that says about him, and in a broad­er sense what that says about dig­i­tal vs. phys­i­cal media.

Per­son­al­ly, dig­i­tal prop­er­ty still feels ephemer­al to me. While I love the fact that I can own whole sea­sons of my favorite TV shows (for exam­ple) with­out hav­ing thick cas­es devour­ing inch after inch of my pre­cious book­shelf space, at the same time, I can’t see them, I can’t hold them, I can’t real­ly know that I have them: ulti­mate­ly I have to believe in them. It becomes almost a mat­ter of faith, and trust as well: faith in an unseen world of zeros and ones that some­how coa­lesce con­sis­tent­ly into the sights and sounds and words that we have paid for, and trust that a glitch, a hic­cup, or dust mote is not going to wipe out all that unseen dig­i­tal prop­er­ty in the blink of an eye.

And that leap of faith trust and in the reli­a­bil­i­ty of dig­i­tal prop­er­ty is a hard one to make, and far hard­er (for many peo­ple) when it comes to books than to music and visu­al enter­tain­ments. Why? Because our rela­tion­ship to books is inher­ent­ly a more phys­i­cal one, at least it always has been since peo­ple start­ed read­ing to them­selves back in late antiq­ui­ty. (Augus­tine com­ments in Book VI of Con­fes­sions how bizarre it was that his men­tor Ambrose would sit by him­self and read silent­ly, rather than aloud as every­one else did: “When he read his eyes would trav­el across the pages and his mind would explore the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent.” Of course, read­ing aloud helped back when there were no spaces between words.) We car­ry books with us, we curl up with them, we smash creep­ing things with them, we amass long shelves full of them, we press trea­sured memen­tos in them. They are for many of us touch­stones mile­stones along life’s jour­ney, some­times even mon­u­ments to the achieve­ment of tack­ling and con­quer­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly daunt­ing text.

And now that is chang­ing. The pre­sen­ta­tion of texts to be read is migrat­ing to ever-improv­ing dig­i­tal devices that allow us to car­ry copi­ous amounts of read­ing mate­r­i­al about with us in our purs­es and man-bags. I can­not see this as a bad thing, but at a deep lev­el it is still a dif­fi­cult devel­op­ment to adjust to. It is one thing to embrace the ease and con­ve­nience this shift offers, but it is anoth­er to com­pen­sate for the uncon­scious expec­ta­tions of what it means to hold a book, to own a book, to pos­sess a book. We’ll get used to it in time: we’re good at that.

I always skip the Oscars

Okay, so I have very lit­tle to say about the Acad­e­my Awards tonight (or ever, real­ly), but what lit­tle I do have I will say now.

I have noth­ing against awards cer­e­monies per se, and while I know rather lit­tle about the film indus­try aside from what is com­mon pop-cul­ture knowl­edge (which feels like know­ing a great deal, giv­en the cen­tral­i­ty of that indus­try, but I am sure those of my friends who actu­al­ly work in the field can reas­sure me of how lit­tle I tru­ly know about the inter­nal work­ings of their craft), I would absolute­ly agree that the efforts of the many many tal­ent­ed peo­ple involved at all stages of the filmic art form deserve to be rec­og­nized and laud­ed by their peers.

How­ev­er, I do not think that said event of (self-)congratulations needs and/or deserves to be a break­ing-news, live-tweet­ed, world-stop­ping cul­tur­al event. This has noth­ing to do with the lav­ish excess of such events (which some might deem scan­dalous, but I am done being scan­dal­ized as a gen­er­al rule). Nor do I intend to cast asper­sions on any­one who finds such spec­ta­cles enjoy­able and enter­tain­ing on their own mer­its, pre­cise­ly as enter­tain­ing spec­ta­cles: if you dig that, then keep on dig­ging it. Instead, I take issue with the degree to which such riv­et­ing atten­tion to the Oscars (and the sev­er­al oth­er awards shows that the same indus­try cycles through every year) tempts film-view­ers — indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly — to abdi­cate respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own appre­cia­tive fac­ul­ties for the films they see.

I love film as an art form. The con­cate­na­tion of the actor’s craft, the expres­sive impact of the visu­al arts, and the infi­nite emo­tion­al palette of music into a uni­fied art of visu­al sto­ry­telling that is far more than a sum of its com­po­nents, is some­thing I have hap­pi­ly spent prob­a­bly thou­sands of hours enjoy­ing already at this point in my life. (As a more-or-less direct result of my tran­si­tion to my rôle of hus­band and father, I have not seen any­where near all the films I wish I had in the past decade or so — I’ve kept a list, obvi­ous­ly — and I should prob­a­bly get start­ed on my list for this decade pret­ty soon, too, before I lose track.) I know which films I enjoy (for var­i­ous rea­sons), which I feel are par­tic­u­lar­ly amaz­ing, which might even deserve to be called impor­tant. But I do not know one rea­son why the bestow­al of an award of any kind upon any film I see should have any rel­e­vance to my rela­tion­ship to that film as an indi­vid­ual work of art. Just as when I read a book or a poem, or look at a paint­ing or a pho­to­graph, or even eat a burg­er and drink a glass of ale, I am the only crit­ic in that moment. My taste is the only arbiter whose judg­ment is of any inter­est to me as I con­sume, in what­ev­er sense is rel­e­vant, the expe­ri­ence I am fac­ing.

So it sad­dens me, I guess, more than any­thing else, when peo­ple make such a point of see­ing the five (or now ten) films nom­i­nat­ed for best pic­ture, or lat­er, when I hear some­one say “Oh, I did­n’t real­ly like that one, but it won Best Pic­ture, so…” So what? Yes, your taste may well be crap, as indeed mine may be, but it is mine, and I gen­er­al­ly stand by it, gild­ed tro­phies be damned. For a long peri­od in my life I watched David Fincher’s Se7en about once a week, and even now would nev­er think of part­ing with my DVD copy, but I could­n’t tell you to save my life whether it won any awards or not. I am pret­ty sure Titan­ic did, yet I strug­gle to imag­ine a sce­nario where I would will­ing­ly sit through that par­tic­u­lar film again.

So, yes, if you love to watch the dress­es come down the red car­pet with celebri­ties inside them, then pop anoth­er bot­tle of what­ev­er and sit back: tonight is your night. But if you love to watch movies, if you delight in the immer­sive expe­ri­ence of film, please do your­self the sim­ple cour­tesy of hon­or­ing what you think is good, great, and leg­endary, and not wor­ry whether it match­es up with the awards list from this or any oth­er sea­son.

Going gaga over Google+

It’s hard not to feel at least a bit excit­ed about Google+ right now. Most of us have com­plained at least once, at times stren­u­ous­ly, about the foibles and fail­ings of Face­book. And as has been observed far and wide already, if any­one is going to build a bet­ter social net­work­ing mouse­trap, it is going to be the future over­lords of all the Earth, Google.

I did not have my ear to the ground on this one, so if there was advance buzz about the immi­nent release of Google+ before it burst into every­one’s news feeds and Twit­ter time­lines late last month, I clear­ly missed it. But it did­n’t take me long to catch on and catch up, and the ear­ly reviews were glow­ing, some­times even rav­ing. This was with­out a doubt going to be so much more awe­some than any­thing Face­book had to offer, or at least that seemed to be the con­sen­sus of the eight peo­ple or so who had actu­al­ly man­aged to get signed in and look around.

But then, what was real­ly at stake here? The inim­itable Mer­lin Mann put his fin­ger on it quite nice­ly in one of his trade­mark toots:

With gor­geous design and care­ful atten­tion to users’ con­cerns, Google+ has rein­vent­ed how we fuck around with but­tons on a fuck­ing web­site.
Mer­lin Mann

Yes, Face­book has been frus­trat­ing, annoy­ing, infu­ri­at­ing with their con­stant tweak­ing and fid­dling with every detail of the user expe­ri­ence. Theirs is an exces­sive­ly busy inter­face, with an infin­i­ty of dis­tract­ing bells and whis­tles. Spam and hack­ing is ram­pant, and chat nev­er real­ly works. And of course it is debil­i­tat­ing­ly addic­tive to many, myself includ­ed, although that is part­ly (read: large­ly) just the nature of the game.

But it still seems a bit daft to ditch out of a par­ty where all your friends are, and where you have gen­er­al­ly been hav­ing a good time, just to move to a par­ty up the block where scarce­ly any­one else you know has been invit­ed yet. I don’t care what brand of gin they’re serv­ing at the new par­ty: if there is no one there to talk to, I might as well be drink­ing alone.

Since I start­ed draft­ing this post, I have been able to get in the Google+ door myself, and more of my peeps are arriv­ing dai­ly. It is a clean, well-tought-out inter­face that Google has put togeth­er. No real sur­prise: that is what they do. I real­ly like the Cir­cles con­cept and its func­tion­al­i­ty. I think this is a net­work mod­el with poten­tial. But it has a lot of grow­ing up to do yet before it can try to rule the social net­work­ing world.

All Things Must End (Even This Year)

And so anoth­er year comes to a close, and with it the first decade of this much-vaunt­ed third mil­len­ni­um.

A lot has hap­pened in these ten years. Some build­ings got knocked down by hijacked air­planes in 2001: that was quite a dire start to the decade. As a result — or using that trag­ic event as a thin excuse, if you pre­fer — the coun­try of my birth has been at war in far-away lands ever since, as well as hap­haz­ard­ly slap­ping togeth­er an end­less and impo­tent cul­ture of fear in our own part of the world.

The end of that year saw the end of a long but future­less per­son­al rela­tion­ship for me, but I entered the new year full of hope, and in Jan­u­ary of 2002 I found the love of my life. In 2003 I got mar­ried to her, and after a brief year of lov­ing cou­ple­hood we became par­ents togeth­er, and then three years lat­er it hap­pened again, and now, three years lat­er, it is hap­pen­ing yet again. (I’m real­ly not sure how this keeps hap­pen­ing.) Mar­ried life, fam­i­ly life, has been a lot of things, but most­ly it has been real, and that is good.

My pro­fes­sion­al life, too, has cov­ered a lot of ground in these ten years. At the start of the decade I was just becom­ing a low-lev­el man­ag­er at a Barnes & Noble store. Four years lat­er I made the leap, neces­si­tat­ed by the recent birth of my first son, to a soul­less cubi­cle job shuf­fling through thou­sands upon thou­sands of mort­gage files and prepar­ing them for archiv­ing in a vast gray ware­house. That near­ly destroyed my soul, but for­tu­nate­ly I was res­cued, thrown a life­line, and I escaped to the tiny data­base sup­port team in the same build­ing, where I was able to learn a whole set of skills I had no idea I would ever encounter, and far more impor­tant­ly I was able to work with a group of peo­ple who real­ly cared about each oth­er, and made work­ing togeth­er some­thing joy­ful. I will always miss that aspect of that time.

But the voice of voca­tion was not silent in my life, despite years of neglect on my part, and in 2009, with the sup­port of my wife, I final­ly set foot upon a path I had been pulled toward for quite some time: the study of canon law, prepara­to­ry to a life work­ing as an expert in the inter­nal law of the Catholic Church. I am now in the midst of my first year of grad­u­ate stud­ies in this area, hav­ing left all my gain­ful employ­ment behind and thrown myself on my local church for the sup­port of myself and my grow­ing fam­i­ly; I can hard­ly say how grate­ful I am that they have been so will­ing to catch me and hold me (so to speak). It has been an excru­ci­at­ing­ly chal­leng­ing time for my fam­i­ly, but the light is start­ing to shine bright­ly through the clouds once more, and there is much to hope for in the years ahead.

And now the decade is over, and in the morn­ing a new one will dawn. What will the next year, and the next ten, hold for me? I cer­tain­ly could have pre­dict­ed very, very lit­tle of what tran­spired over these past three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-two days, so I won’t even pre­tend I have a clue what to expect from the com­ing three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-three turns of the globe. But I am sure hop­ing that I can make a sim­i­lar­ly san­guine report to each of you at the oth­er end of this decade, too.

Hap­py New Year, every­one. Don’t stick beans up your noses.