Last week, two students asked what I knew about the word valentine. Hmmm. (I love student inspired investigations!) We looked at Etymonline and found that
[It was first attested mid 15th century as a “sweetheart chosen on St. Valentine’s Day,” from Late Latin Valentinus, the name of two early Italian saints (from Latin valentia “strength, capacity,” see valence.) Choosing a sweetheart on this day originated 14c. as a custom in English and French court circles. Meaning “letter or card sent to a sweetheart” first recorded 1824. The romantic association of the day is said to be from it being around the time when birds choose their mates.]
Aside from finding out how the custom of sending cards came about, it was quite surprising to see the words “strength” and “capacity” connected to valentine. We followed the bolded link to the word valence to find out more.
[Early 15c., “extract, preparation,” from Latin valentia “strength, capacity,” from valentem (nominative valens) “strong, stout, vigorous, powerful,” present participle of valere “be strong” (see valiant).]
Here we found Latin valentia “strength, capacity” again, but also valentem, present participle of valere “be strong”. We continued the search and looked closer at valiant.
[Early 14c. “brave, courageous intrepid in danger, “from Anglo-French vaylant, and Old French vaillant “stalwart, brave,” present participle adjective from valoir “be worthy,” originally “be strong,” from Latin valere “be strong, be well, be worth, have power, be able, be in health”.]
So here we have it. The probable word sum for valentine is <vale/> + <ent> + <ine>, and at the heart of this word are the ideas of being strong, well, worthy, powerful, able, and healthy. How about that!
There’s so much to think about with this matrix. I see connections in meaning that I didn’t see before. The word equivalent tells me that two things are of equal worth. If you feel ambivalent about something, you are conflicted because you see it as having worth and in another respect as not having worth.
A word I’ve been using a lot lately in regards to our upcoming Science Fair and the data collection that each student is doing is the word valid. I have been asking students to collect enough data so that their findings are valid, or worthy. And then there is the word valedictorian – a worthy person who delivers an inspiring graduation speech.
As so often is the case, one worthy question leads to heaps of new understandings!