What does ‘comity’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: comity….

When I read the fascinating Danish novel — shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize — Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors, I was struck by the cool precision with which she used language.

As the New York Times put it: “there’s a bracing freshness and chill to the writing, and the unforced ease of a song. . . . Nors can’t help but handle words in interesting ways and put them to original uses. . . . If her subject is unwavering, her style remains restless, less out of a desire to be ‘experimental’ than out of playfulness and a genuine yearning, one feels, for contact and connection.”

One of those interesting words that Nors used was comity. Here’s how she employed it:

At first she wasn’t allowed to, but for the sake of neighborhood comity her father yielded at last.

Meaning “a courtesy and a show of considerate behaviour toward others,” the word is derived from the French comité, which, in turn comes from Latin comitas meaning “courtesy, friendliness, kindness, affability.” Although you might suspect that the word committee comes from the same root, it in fact originates from the Latin committere  meaning “to unite, connect, combine; to bring together.”

The phrase comity of nations dates to 1812 and refers to the “obligation recognized by civilized nations to respect each other’s laws and usages as far as their separate interests allow.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on March 13/19.

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