During this year’s lockdown periods, filling out an ‘attestation de déplacement’ form became part and parcel of daily life for anyone living in France and needing to leave their home.
Whether you were popping to the supermarket for supplies or heading out for a daily hour-long walk, you needed to carry this state-sanctioned proof that you had the right to be out and about.
So we all know what an attestation is now – but where does the word come from?
“Attestation”, a feminine noun, entered the French language in the middle of the 13th century, hot on the heels of the verb attester, which was first used at the very beginning of that century. This referred to the act of certifying a fact, or showing proof of being witness to something – and it’s origins are, not surprisingly, Latin.
Testis means ‘witness’ – which derives from an Indo-European word for the number three – for the Romans, a trusted third party was the only reliable and unbiased witness to a dispute.
“Attestari” the verb in Latin, and “attestatio”, meaning the testimony, were constructed by combining the preposition ad- (meaning towards, or in the direction of) and the verb testari, (to testify).
The word has always had serious or legal implications – for example, there is usage dating back to 1694, when the role of a priest was “to attest” in civic proceedings, ie. “The parish priest has attested that he married them”.
Written attestations are nothing new: in April, Jérémie Ferrer-Bartomeu, a researcher at the University of Neuchâtel, posted on Twitter an attestation dated November 4, 1720 permitting “Alexandre Coulomb, 28, to leave Remoulins for Blauzac (Gard)” during the ‘Marseille plague’.