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 affidein 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.

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