Today, while reading my English-Vietnamese dictionary, I came across a relatively new phrase, "attic faith", which is translated into Vietnamese as "niềm tin không thể bị lay chuyển".

As I looked it up, I only found 4 related results:





All of them have the same definition: unshakeable faith or inviolable faith. However, as a selective learner, I do not usually believe something without questioning its reliability. I also looked up the word "attic" in the OED but there is no definition of it being "unshakeable" or "inviolable". Consequently, it made me doubt the existence of the phrase "attic faith".

I would like to know if it is a real phrase and its meaning is such.

  • 3
    Can you define what you mean by "a real phrase"? If you can find it in the dictionary then that would seem to make it "real". Do you actually mean "commonly used" or something similar? – Max Williams Jun 3 '16 at 14:26
  • 2
    The answers suggest that "attic" needs to be capitalized. – 200_success Jun 3 '16 at 16:52
  • Interesting. I would have naively guessed it meant the faith of someone who could only pray in the attic of a house, because of religious persecution. – Andrew Grimm Jun 4 '16 at 1:43
  • 1
    This folks, is "how" you ask a question about the meaning of a word or phrase. – Mari-Lou A Jun 5 '16 at 7:46
  • @Max Williams: Sorry, what I actually meant was "commonly used". Sometimes I have difficulty in conveying my idea and so I may unknowingly use a wrong word. – Abecedarian Jun 5 '16 at 9:29

The term Attic faith certainly seems to be rare, but not new. Ngram records 0 instances, but online sources attest to a definition in Webster's 1913 dictionary:

inviolable faith

This same dictionary also lists several related terms, and references them in its adjectival definition of Attic, which was new to me:

a. 1. Of or pertaining to Attica, in Greece, or to Athens, its principal city; marked by such qualities as were characteristic of the Athenians; classical; refined.

Attic base (Arch.) a peculiar form of molded base for a column or pilaster, described by Vitruvius, applied under the Roman Empire to the Ionic and Corinthian and "Roman Doric" orders, and imitated by the architects of the Renaissance.

Attic faith inviolable faith.

Attic purity special purity of language.

Attic salt a poignant, delicate wit, peculiar to the Athenians.

Attic story See Attic, n.

Attic style a style pure and elegant.

You go on to say,

I would like to know if it is a real phrase and its meaning is such.

It apparently is a "real phrase", in the sense that multiple authorities attest to it. I personally attribute more authority to Webster's than to the sources you listed, but any way around, multiple attestations are strong evidence. On the other hand, if by "real phrase" you mean do people actually say or write that phrase in modern English, then no. I never saw or heard it before today.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I had never actually hear 'attic faith', but if I had I should have presumed it meant 'the religion followed by the ancient Athenians'. – Aeon Akechi Jun 3 '16 at 14:39
  • 5
    I've also never heard or seen the phrase, but when seeing this question I guessed it meant "faith kept in the attic": faith in theory only but not in practice. – dj18 Jun 3 '16 at 16:47
  • 2
    I have heard it, twenty years ago when I was a child. I presumed its meaning as @jd18 was saying. I thought it meant weak faith, that people only bother to get out of the attic on occasion (like holiday decorations). So, this web page was interesting, teaching me that the phrase actually meant the exact opposite of what I understood. Still, I join the chorus of people proclaiming that this phrase seems to be exceedingly rare among native speakers of American English. It is so rare, that it is prone to be misunderstood (as dj18 and I did), so it is not safe to use without explanation. – TOOGAM Jun 3 '16 at 21:36
  • 2
    It was perfectly safe to use it when everyone with more than an elementary education had studied classical languages. The "classical Greek" learned by beginners is essentially Attic Greek, i.e. the language of Athens in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, the native language of Plato, Aristotle, etc, and the version of Greek used by the Romans. (The Greek Empire used a different dialect, Koine Greek or "common Greek" - with a similar relation to Attic Greek as "English as a Foreign Language" has to "Formal English"). – alephzero Jun 3 '16 at 21:46
  • 2
    @alephzero The connection between "Attic Greek" and "inviolable faith" isn't obvious IMO. Perhaps I'm supposed to equate "Attic" with "especially good", e.g. an "Attic horse" would be a great horse? – ChrisW Jun 4 '16 at 9:19

It is the case that the Wiktionary entry for Attic faith shows "Inviolable faith".

But note the capital letter. In that entry, the word Attic is also a link:

From Ancient Greek Ἀττικός ‎(Attikós, “related to Athens”).

Attic ‎(comparative more Attic, superlative most Attic)

  1. Relating to Athenian culture or architecture.
  2. Marked by the qualities that were characteristic of the Athenians; classical; refined.
  3. Relating to that dialect of Ancient Greek.

Perhaps the ancient Athenian culture was noted for unshakeable faith.

| improve this answer | |

You may find the entry from the OED helpful. Note that Attic is a reference to Attica or its capital Athens:

  1. Having characteristics peculiarly Athenian; hence, of literary style, etc.: Marked by simple and refined elegance, pure, classical. Attic salt or Attic wit (Latin sal Atticum): refined, delicate, poignant wit. Attic faith: inviolable faith.

1633 Battle of Lutzen in Harl. Misc. (Malh.) IV. 185 Written in a stile so attick..that it may well be called the French Tacitus.

1738 Pope Epil. to Satires ii. 7 While Roman Spirit charms, and Attic Wit.

1762 L. Sterne Life Tristram Shandy V. iii. 27 Triumph swam in my father's eyes, at the repartee—the Attic salt brought water into them.

1830 T. Hamilton Cyril Thornton (1845) 49 The true attic pronunciation inculcated in Mrs. Blenkinsop's academy.

1864 M. Arnold in Cornhill Mag. Aug. 164 Well, but Addison's prose is Attic prose.

| improve this answer | |

I found it used here in a footnote in an edition of The Satires of Persius and Juvenal:

for at one time 'Attic faith' was proverbially as good as 'Punic faith' was bad.

I guess the footnote is referring to this phrase of the text:

... nondum Graecis jurare paratis per caput alterius ...

... which I think implies that "faith" in this context means 'can be relied upon to keep their promises', rather than 'religious belief' (see also The Roman Concept of 'FIDES').

IMO it's so uncommon that it's no longer a "real phrase, commonly used". Even though I had some (slight) acquaintance with Classics I didn't understand that phrase (and I didn't recall having heard or read it before) when you presented it out of context.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.