The English translations of Spanish desafiar given at sensAgent include ‘outface, defy, stand up to, weather, endure, brave, brave out, dare, provoke, nettle, annoy, gall, irk, aggravate, put someone’s back up, challenge, beard, stare down, outstare, withstand, hold, hold up, take on.’ Some of those seem a bit iffy, but the second one interests us because it is the English cognate of desafiar. The Spanish verb breaks down into des- and the obsolete afiar, which meant ‘to inspire confidence.’ Afiar, in turn, was composed of a and the still-used fiar ‘to have confidence in, rely on, trust.’ That verb evolved from Vulgar Latin *fidāre, a refashioning of the classical Latin fidere that had meant ‘to trust, confide, put confidence in, rely upon.’ That verb in turn had been derived from the root of the Latin noun fidēs that has become Spanish fe and, via Anglo-Norman fed, English faith. As for defy, English acquired it from Old French desfier, which had developed from Vulgar Latin *disfīdāre. The Spanish noun corresponding to desafiar is desafío, while English has defiance corresponding to defy.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 13:29:45

    I assume fidelity has its root here. What about affair?


  2. Maria
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 18:51:28

    Seems the ‘de’ prefix is known to me. What turned out new is the origin of ‘fidere’ in Latin. We use ‘fiar’ when we put something in lay-away at a store to pay it later. We say: “lo voy a cojer fiao”. “Fiao” can have a negative connotation since you haven’t paid in full, at least in this culture. “Desafio” is serious business.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 30, 2013 @ 21:50:17

      Thanks for adding the use in Puerto Rico of fiar in connection with lay-away, which I hadn’t heard of. You’re right that desafío is serious business, as challenge can be in English, although recent usage has watered down the English word.


  3. shoreacres
    Jan 02, 2014 @ 20:12:16

    I couldn’t figure out the inclusion of “beard” in that initial list at the top. Then I remembered expressions like “bearding the lion in his den”. That makes the word’s inclusion in the list more understandable.

    Another word that came to mind is “fiduciary”, as in fiduciary contract, or fiduciary responsibility.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 02, 2014 @ 23:35:06

      In the 1913 Webster’s I found two appropriate definitions of the verb:
      1. To take by the beard; to seize, pluck, or pull the beard of (a man), in anger or contempt.
      2. To oppose to the gills; to set at defiance.

      You’re right about fiduciary. Some more relatives will be coming next time.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 03, 2014 @ 09:13:17

      Now here’s a coincidence. I’ve been working my way through Stephen Jay Gould’s collection of science essays called Bully for Brontosaurus, and a few minutes ago I came to this: “Wilberforce directly bearded and taunted Huxley by pointedly asking, in sarcastic ridicule, whether he claimed descent from an ape on his grandfather’s or grandmother’s side.”


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