SURETY: “1. security against loss or damage or for the fulfillment of an obligation, the payment of a debt, etc.; a pledge, guaranty, or bond; 2. a person who has made himself or herself responsible for another, as a sponsor, godparent, or bondsman; 3. the state or quality of being sure; 4. certainty”

A good friend, who happens to be a distinguished professor of religion, wrote me this note:

Lexicide moment: “All that can be said with any surety . . . ” Really? Are you going to give me something in exchange for letting you say what you want to say? Reading a very frustrating article right now. Changed “surety” to certainty and thought of you.

Aww. In return for that thought (and the C-note you slipped me), Lexicide’s word du jour is surety, which according to the popular website can indeed mean “certainty.” Even the OED lists “the state of being sure or certain of something” as a definition. Merriam-Webster lists “the state of being sure” as the primary definition!

Color me surprised. No, really. I asked the missus, who usually defends language misuse, and she’s never heard surety used in any context outside of a guaranty (as opposed to a guarantee). Of course, since she’s a distinguished attorney who used to work in insurance, her readings are skewed. For example, she hadn’t read this web review of Dickens’ Dombey and Son:

It is a lovely book, I can say that with all surety.

And on Yahoo Voices, a writer snarks:

Once again, promised with all surety the rapture was upon us, disappointment results.

And if those sites aren’t “legit” enough for you, here’s a testimony from a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on their website

It took a lot of fasting and prayer on my part, but I can now say with all surety that God lives, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.

Interesting that two of those examples cited here are religion-oriented. And my friend is a professor of Jewish studies who came across the first example in her work. Surely there’s a joke here involving an airplane and a shortage of parachutes.

Again, we at Lexicide have to ask – why use surety when there is already an established, uncontroversial word for certainty: certainty?

Okay, here’s the joke: A Jew, a Mormon and an atheist are flying together when their plane malfunctions. As it spirals to certain doom, the Jew announces, “I believe with all surety that my name is written in the Book of Life, so I will soon see G-d.” The Mormon counters, “I believe with all surety I will soon be with Jesus in the Celestial Kingdom.” The atheist then says, “I believe with all the surety my brothers put up on this airplane, they are going to be pissed!”

Thank you. Please tip your waitress.

Otto E. Mezzo


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