92: Faith

A Thousand Things to Talk About
92: Faith


How do you define fidelity?

Show notes and links:
Online Etymology Dictionary
Savage Anxieties (Amazon)

Full episode text

Around 1300 ACE, the French word “fealty” began to take shape from older roots,and by the 1500s, began to morph into “fidelity.”” Both of these words originally indicated a faith in or loyalty to one’s ruler and / or religion. Two concepts that, at the time in French society, were very closely linked.

Both based in the Latin fidelitatem, this concept is rooted in the idea of not only faith, but loyalty and therefore trustworthiness.

In modern usage in the English language, the word seems to have split into three major arenas of use. One is a company name – usually associated with investments – intended to convey what I would imagine were the Latin and French roots.

The other two have to do with closeness to the original, and interpersonal relationships.

In the first sense, fidelity is used to indicate how close a copy of something is to the intended original. A recording, translation, piece of copied art – all could have varying degrees of closeness. It’s used in this context as a description of the fealty, or faithfulness, to the original.

In the other, fidelity is usually used in its negative, or infidelity. A phrase meant to indicate that trust has been broken, faith has been broken, or a promise was broken. We say someone has engaged in an infidelity as a more delicate way of discussing sexual or relationship “cheating.” This usage of the word can be traced back to “infidel” or “one who is not of our religion.”

Dig into the creation of the Other explored in the book Savage Anxieties, and the impact of naming someone as not sharing the same faith becomes very, very clear. Naming someone as the Other makes them easier to discriminate against.

This, however, is all etymology and history. What a word truly means or indicates to you is something much more personal.