Fidus amor.

Thea Thorsen’s OUPBlog post Want to know the Latin for “true love”? is mainly about Ovid, but this paragraph contains what I’m pretty sure is a false assertion:

Fidus amor. That’s “true love” in Latin. Historically, such love is often claimed to have emerged with the troubadours of twelfth century Provence. The troubadours used the Occitan term fin amor for this kind of love rather than the more famous amour courtois, “courtly love”, which is a modern concoction. However, “Fin amor”, is “derived from Latin fidus, ‘faithful’. Originally, fin amor was admirable and refined because it was faithful, by definition.” So the term, fin amor, comes from Latin, as do many in the romance languages.

The “derived” link goes to a book by Bernard O’Donoghue, but he’s primarily a poet, though apparently he’s been “emeritus fellow and tutor in Old English and Medieval English, Linguistics and the History of the English Language, Modern Irish Literature, Yeats and Joyce at Wadham College, Oxford.” I don’t see how fin could come from fidus, which gives rather fis/fit in Old French, but if anyone knows of any grounds for this assertion, by all means speak up!


  1. Ian Myles Slater says

    There are other of statements on-line about fin amor being derived from fidus amor, including a Valentine’s Day post about it on an OUP blog

    If it is true, my pure guess would be that Occitan handled Latin ‘fidus’ somewhat differently (at least in this context) than Old French did.

    If it is false, I suppose that we have another interesting meme…..

  2. That Valentine’s Day post is the very one I linked! And I suppose it’s possible that Occitan handled it differently, but I don’t see how the -n would have gotten there.

  3. The Oxford reference snippet for fin’amor says “[OFr., amour fine] Occitan term for the most refined and valued type of love, courtly love (French, amour courtois) being a modern confection. Whereas fina/fine (‘pure’ or ‘true’) is commonly …”. So it’s not from fidus. I don’t have an account so I can’t see the whole entry.

  4. I can’t quickly discover what Latin fidus actually became in Occitan, but one would expect something like fiz, fis (intervocalic -d- becoming -z-), and therefore not showing case/number distinctions. Meanwhile, an equivalent of French fin should show up as fin/fins in the masculine, but in some areas that would have become fi/fis (e.g. Toulouse area), giving overlapping forms. I suppose people may have then assumed that the forms of fidus were actually meant to be forms of the ‘fine’ word – and then exported to the confusion to regions where the -n- persisted. Wiktionnaire glosses Old Occitan “fin” as “Fin, pur, fidèle, sûr” but does not give an etymology so it is not clear if they see it is a semantic extension or a merger of two etyma.
    (Back in the day I did a PhD on the Leys damors of Guilhem Molinier, so trying to retrieve my long-abandoned Occitan studies from the mists of time).

  5. Sounds reasonable to me!

  6. Maybe they’re thinking about Adam de la Halle’s rondeau Fines amouretes ai? Adam was a trouvère from Artois, not Occitan.

    The lyrics are here, and there are recordings around. It’s pretty to listen to.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    The vocabulary in the not-infallible Paden’s “introduction to Old Occitan” says fin is cognate to Italian and Spanish fino, French fin, and says that the same adjective is used for “fine leather” and “good reputation.” Doesn’t preclude anhweol’s neat idea at all, of course. Surprisingly few troubadours were specialists in Romance comparative linguistics. Non omnia possumus omnes.

  8. Could it just be that amars fis gave way to fin’amor (i.e., amour fine) and this was misunderstood as etymology? When did people start writing that it came from fidus and not finis?

  9. David Marjanović says

    amars fis

    There’s a Trojan on that site. (Actually on, which may or may not have an ad there – I have an adblocker.)

  10. coinhive is a miner. Probably some PHP vulnerability.

    Too bad because it was nicely formatted. I guess LH should kill that link, then.

    Another should be safe: A leis tajnh amors tan fis

  11. Link killed; thanks for the heads-up.

  12. I wrote an article in Chaucer Review about the medieval land law sense of the word “fyn,” “An Analysis of the Legal Sense of the Word Fin (Finalis Concordia) in Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain, Pearl, Chaucer’s Works and Especially the Ending of Troilus and Criseyde.” I am sure most of you have JStor if you want more information than you ever wanted to know on the topic. To oversimplify, the poetic comparison of land conveyancing to love is pretty common in medieval poetry, and Chaucer went a little overboard in Troilus. Reading my article after many years, it seems that I found that, since the word referred to a compromise settlement resulting in harmony between two opposing parties, “fyn” came to be used to symbolize reconciliation and the harmonization of contraries. Or something like that.

    Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for his love!
    Swich fyn hath al his grete worthynesse!
    Swich fyn hath his estat real above!
    Swich fyn his lust, swich fyn hath his noblesse!
    And thus bigan his lovyng of Criseyde,
    As I have told, and in this wise he deyde.

  13. Matthew Roth says

    I happened to have a world-renowned scholar of troubadour poetry for my French grad class on literature–she expanded it to include Occitan and the troubadours, being that their lands are now mostly in France. Never once was this proposed. It is like our “fine,” somewhat in the sense of “distilled,” “purified,” “refined. Moshe Lazar wrote the chapter on fin’amor in The Handbook of the Troubadours. Admittedly, it was a bit out of date even when published twenty-something years ago, but it works as a starting point, and I do not think Lazar has been challenged on this! Unless I am missing something, even the idea of fidelity is central, but that’s just it, the troubadours are always asking questions about fidelity, love, how to be a good lover, etc. They would have caught on to this etymology themselves. Laura Kerrick’s book deals with St Isidore and St Augustine’s competing (–ish) theories on etymology and words in the troubadour repertoire.

    To what fidus became, well, we can look at (modern) Occitan and see that “fidèle” mostly keeps its d but does change along expected lines in Languedocien.

  14. The medieval form of “fidelis” seems mostly to be “fizel” or “fiel” – I suspect ‘d’ forms show some influence from Latin forms (as in the modern French and Catalan words, both of which replaced directly inherited forms; e.g. English wiktionary on Catalan fidel citing the older “feel”). But the fate of “fidelis” doesn’t tell us exactly what happened to “fidus” – though in the absence of any positive evidence that it had an impact on ‘fin’, my hypothesis above will have to be regarded as theoretically possible rather than particularly likely – fidus may have had no descendant at all. (I admit I was initially expecting to find that the idea of a link between fidus and fin was completely impossible).

  15. There’s fi.

  16. On the Raïmbaut d’Aurenca that caused trouble above, Adolf Kolsen says:

    22. Wegen der männl. Adjektivform fis (s. Diez, Etymol. Wbch., p. 584, fi < fidus und Appel, Chr., p. 255 b) musste das hdschr. amors in amars geändert werden; man könnte dafür auch amans schreiben.

    But Kurt Lewent says:

    V. 22. A leis tanh amars tan fis. Die Gründe für die von Kolsen vorgenommene Änderung des handschriftlichen amors in amars sind durchaus anzuerkennen. Dagegen kann man die in der Anm. S. 103 vertretene Etymologie von fis < fidus kaum billigen. Das Femininum fida hätte prov. *fiza ergeben müssen. Aber es heisst stets amor fina oder fin’amors; so etwa schon bei Marcabrun (ed. Dejeanne): fin’amor XIII, 7 und XXV, 67, fin’amistatz XXVI, 46, amor fina (im Reim) XXXI, 46. Das fis in v. 22 ist also fin + s.

    Maybe this has something to do with it.

  17. How about asking Thea Thorsen where she took this idea from? The normal reflex of fīdus in Old Occitan was fis, as expected.

  18. T.I. Silar: You left out a line after “his noblesse”, namely “Swich fyn hath false worldes brotelnesse”. Just for the fun of it, I’ll quote some more lines as ObHat:

    And for ther is so greet diversitee
    In English and in wryting of our tonge,
    So preye I God that noon miswryte thee,
    Ne thee mismetre for defaute of tonge.
    And red wherso thou be, or elles songe,
    That thou be understonde I God biseche!
    But yet to purpos of my rather speche.

  19. How about asking Thea Thorsen where she took this idea from?

    Presumably from Bernard O’Donoghue, since that’s what she links to. I don’t know where he might have gotten it.

  20. He merely states it as a fact in an endnote (pp. 154–155), quoted almost verbatim by Thorsen.

    “Fis” [sic], as in fin amor, derived from Latin fidus, “faithful”. Originally, fin amor was admirable and refined because it was faithful, by definition.

    No source is given.

  21. Reading my article after many years, it seems that I found that, since the word referred to a compromise settlement resulting in harmony between two opposing parties, “fyn” came to be used to symbolize reconciliation and the harmonization of contraries. Or something like that.

    Something, but not much. This fyn is plainly the ordinary English word fine in its oldest sense, ‘cessation, end’. Such an end, says the poet, has Troilus for love.

    Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for his love!

    His is an interpolation; Troilus was a trisyllable.

  22. PlasticPaddy says

    Re fidus amor as true love. Ovid uses this;other sources prefer verus amor:

    Sextus Propertius Eligiae 2.15.1

    O me felicem! nox o mihi candida! et o tu lectule deliciis facte beate meis! …
    quam vario amplexu mutâmus bracchia! quantum
    oscula sunt labris nostra morata tuis! 10
    non iuvat in caeco Venerem corrumpere motu:
    si nescis, oculi sunt in amore duces.

    dum nos fata sinunt, oculos satiemus amore:
    nox tibi longa venit, nec reditura dies.
    atque utinam haerentis sic nos vincire catena 25
    velles, ut numquam solveret ulla dies!
    exemplo iunctae tibi sint in amore columbae,
    masculus et totum femina coniugium.
    errat, qui finem vesani quaerit amoris:
    verus amor nullum novit habere modum.

  23. The compound true love itself is of OE date (as treowlufu) if not older, and it clearly means ‘faithful love, fidus amor’. The OED speculates that love is the first thing called true in its extension from persons to abstracts. Are or were there cognate compounds in the other Germanic languages?

  24. David Marjanović says

    I’d rather say true love is a reanalysis of the compound.

    There’s nothing similar to the compound in German that I’m aware of; the trope is wahre Liebe as in English today.

  25. John Cowan says

    Truelove is the English name of Paris quadrifolia, apparently short for true love(r)’s knot.

    I note also that fine has had the specific meaning ‘death’ since OE times, though the OED does not cite Chaucer for this meaning. There is also a historical legal meaning, which is probably the one that Silar (above) had in mind: ‘a collusive legal action used to convey ownership in land’.

    The English cognate of wahr appears only once in OE: “Iċ ġelȳfe [believe] þæt hit from Gode cōme, brōht from his bysene [example], þæs mē þes boda [messenger] sæġde wǣrum wordum [in true words]”, though wǣr ‘cautious < on guard’ is fairly common. Correspondingly, sooth ‘true’ has an OHG cognate sandby Grimm’s Law and the Anglo-Frisian Nasal Spirant Law; both wǣr and sand were utterly lost thereafter.

  26. Lars Mathiesen says

    *h₁sónts, (L sons, sontis), PG *sanþaz, Runic (nom sg f) san, ON sannr / saðr, Da sand, Nw/Sw sann — I find this form fascinating, a PIE present participle that had similar added senses in Sanskrit, though it is not a surprising development so maybe it’s a stretch to project the added senses back to PIE.

    The Danish d is orthographic, the ON -ðr < -nnr is regular, but I assume d was pronounced in OHG.

    The feminine *h₁s-ónt-ih₂ survives as sin in English (from the oblique stem *h₁sn̥tyéh₂- with epenthetic vowel and umlaut). Paradigmatic Latin forms in absent and present.

  27. David Marjanović says

    I assume d was pronounced in OHG.

    Not only that, but I assume it was voiceless the whole time, because *þþ became dd before it merged into tt.

Speak Your Mind