The Use of Words in The Death of Rafael.

One of the great gifts of writing in English (I speak as someone whose mother tongue is not English) is the incredible wealth of the vocabulary, and the shaded meaning of words that would be in another language, only one word describing one thing, either abstract or concrete.

One such word is certainty. The idea of being certain of something has another word to describe it–certitude.

Why do why even bother to go into this?  Because, well… I was criticized for using the word ‘certitude’ instead of ‘certainty’ and one of the two reviewers (called Vine reviewers) for Amazon ABNA competition who were assigned to review my excerpt, was so disturbed, or disgusted, or indignant of my use of a ‘bigger’ word than necessary, that while the rest of her review  was quite complimentary and  very positive, the word ‘certitude’ certainly may have contributed to getting The Death of Rafael taken out of the competition.

So, I need vindication. Although this would not put me back in competition, it is a commentary on the fickle finger of fate and all that, I just want to share some word crafting. (Okay, I’m also venting… I admit it. So, there!) 


If you consult the dictionary, the two are interchangeable.

Yes. And no. The difference is small, but it is a difference, and if writing is like music to you, it would ‘vibrate’ differently on the string of your writing instrument.

This is what Grammist says:

 One definition that certainty does not share with certitude is something that is clearly established or certain. But where certainty means the state of being certain, it is very close to certitude, which means the state of feeling absolutely convinced. If there is a difference, it’s that certitude is a feeling while certainty involves inherent factuality.

Clear? Nope.

Let me give you the example in The Death of Rafael.

On page 24, Daniela (Rafael’s sister) is on the phone with her mother, Giselle, about preparations for Rafael’s birthday. Giselle makes the statement that Rafael likes lilac.  As Rafael is not around to tell anyone whether he likes lilac, or gladiolas, or some carnivorous bloom instead, Giselle does not know that he likes lilac for a fact. It is not factual. In this case it is her imagination, what she imagines for Rafael, and in her obsession, she has no doubt that it is so. But because it is not factual, there is no certainty. However, because she has ‘the feeling’ that it is so, there is certitude.

Therefore, Daniela remarks that her mother knows this ‘with great certitude.’

Is the use of certitude vs. certainty  kind of precious and blue-socked and pedantic, and pretentious?

Yes. And so what? I didn’t know all this when I used the word certitude in the novel. It just somehow sounded right to me.  So I am totally innocent. Just got lucky.

Do people talk like that? Not in general. But Daniela, when she speaks this line, is a lawyer and a superior court judge. Yup, she could talk like that.