Sunday, February 8, 2015


Quite typically of me, I didn't think of the obvious image for this page until Peter Rozovsky pointed it out.
Yeah, usually these words have some relation to my real life, but don't worry, no one has done anything treacherous, iniquitous or malicious to me lately, at least not that I know of. This word came to my attention from elsewhere recently, probably television. It's a great old word, one we should use more often when outraged, but what does it really mean? And from whence has it come?


Yes, it's got those old Latin roots, no surprise. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the Latin perfidia goes back to the phrase per fidem dicipere, which means "to deceive through trustingness". The Middle French was perfidie and it hit English in the 1590s. Perfidious Albion (la perfide Albion), as in, "Hey, looking at YOU, England!" came over from France a bit later in the form of a poem of 1793 by a Frenchman named Augustin, although it seems the sentiment predated the poem by, well, centuries.

Wikipedia tells us that there is a particular meaning to perfidy in war, which is actually a war crime. So you can't hold up a flag of surrender and then not surrender. You can't feign wounds or illness. You can't pretend to be a non-combatant if you are one, and you can't pretend to be a United Nations peacekeeper either. The reasoning is that it is hard to create an atmosphere of mutual restraint for all parties, including civilians, if one side can't believe a word the other side is saying.

Interestingly, though, ruses of war are not perfidious. What ruses of war? Well, things like camouflage and decoys, dummy operations and misinformation, according to the 1977 additional protocol to the Geneva Convention. Kind of makes me wonder how all these distinctions were hammered out.

You'd think that there would be a lot of great quotes on perfidy, and perhaps there are, but the one I liked best was the one at the bottom of the Online Etymology Dictionary entry:

Combinations of wickedness would overwhelm the world by the advantage which licentious principles afford, did not those who have long practiced perfidy grow faithless to each other.

                                                                           --Samuel Johnson


  1. I would have guessed that the per- part of the word is related to the per- in pernicious and the por- in pornography. And perhaps James Ellroy's most recent novel will give this word renewed currency.

  2. That's funny, because although I'm sure I knew the title of Ellroy's book, it didn't cross my mind as I wrote this up.

    I did see one by Ben Hecht called Perfidy, but it's contents are so beyond my ability to decipher as to the truth and falsity of its contents that I decided to just let it alone.

  3. He's pointing out what you missed. Nice shot!

    I have never heard of Hecht's Perfidy, but that is an enticing description.

  4. All props to Ellroy, but it is very easy to point out what I miss. Shooting fish in a barrel would be understating it.

  5. If you miss much, I must have missed it.

  6. Thanks, Peter, but this whole blog is an illustration of how much I do miss. Luckily, it provides me with a lot of content.

  7. That you recognize you miss much only shows how little you miss, Grasshopper.