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.

Leave a Reply