Saturday, December 18, 2004

Promises to keep

With the New Year around the corner, everybody is busy drafting and editing his or her resolutions and pledges. To run the course of determination smoothly, a look at some words for such promises are in order.

Vow refers to a solemn promise and its solemnity is proved by its origin. It comes from the Latin votum, which meant ‘promise solemnly’ and later ‘wishing or desiring’. Vote also comes from votum and relates to the idea of expressing one’s ‘wishes’ by means of casting a ballot. The common origin of vow and vote lends the vow a very serious tone indeed.

A pledge is also a solemn promise or undertaking, it owes its origin to the German pflicht, which means ‘duty’. ‘To pledge one’s troth’ is somewhat like the Raghukul reet of pran jaye par vachan na jaye and means ‘a solemn promise of commitment or loyalty, especially in marriage’. The common origin of troth and truth lies in the Old English treowth, meaning ‘constancy’ adding seriousness to the whole business of pledging.

For those who stick to their New Year resolutions up to January 1, here’s a note of optimism: resolution means ‘a firm decision to do or not to do something’. So, just like the devil who can quote scriptures, the fine print can be read later in the year when the resolution-maker can wriggle out by stating that whatever was pledged to be done was actually resolved not to be done. Resolution has been derived from resolve, a word that bears faint resemblance to a promise or commitment. Resolve comes from the Latin resolvere, meaning ‘to loosen’, leading onto resolve as in ‘settling or finding a solution to a problem’. Much later, resolve came to take on the meaning ‘decide firmly on a course of action’, leading to resolution.

Commitment, meaning ‘pledge or undertaking’ comes from the Latin committere. Committere means ‘entrust’; in Latin, com means ‘with’ and mittere means ‘put or send’ as the ancient sense of committere was ‘put into custody’. From this idea, the sense of entrusting as in a promise must have developed.

So, Happy New Resolutions.