Printable Version
Pronunciation: fee-êl-ti Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. The loyalty of a vassal to his lord. 2. The fidelity felt for a sovereign or intense patriotism toward one's country. 3. Intense fidelity to anything, as 'fealty fans to a movie star'.

Notes: Fidelity is loyalty in general; fealty is a specific loyalty to a superior, commanding or deserving fidelity. It is a lexical orphan, having no derivational relatives.

In Play: Since we have no lords and vassals, those who assume the powers of lords often demand fealty: "Moe Lester found that the mob boss demanded unswerving fealty of his band of happy mobsters." The third sense of today's Good Word is still quite topical in 2021: "Donald Trump became president through the avid fealty of his supporters."

Word History: English borrowed this one from Old French fealte "loyalty, fidelity" which Old French had reduced from Latin fidelitas "faithfulness, loyalty". Fidelitas is based on fidelis "faithful, loyal", the adjective for fides "trust, faith". While we were at it, we borrowed the Latin original, too, remodeling it into fidelity. Old French developed two words from Latin fides; the other was feid "faith, confidence", which Anglo-French converted to feith "trust, loyalty". English only slightly adjusted this one to faith. Latin got all its words from PIE bheidh- "to trust, confide", also the source of English (a)bide and Latin fidus "faithful". The Spanish Inquisition brought about Portuguese auto-da-fé "judicial sentence; burning at the stake", literally "act of the faith". This is a Portuguese reduction of Latin actus de fides "order, decree" de "of, from" fides "faith". (Today's word was yet another great suggestion from Lew Jury, whose much appreciated fealty to the Good Word series stretches the better part of two decades.)

Dr. Goodword,

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