3

Both come from Latin.

The noun amicus(friend) from amo(I love)

The verb affor(to address) from ad + for(to speak to)

I am pretty sure etymologically amiable should be much more warm, pleasant and friendly. Amiable should be closer to friendly. While Affable should be closer to easy to talk with.

Nonetheless a Semantic change/drift might have occured.

What is the difference in nuance of amiable and affable?

A possible answer to my question could be given by Jim's comment.

If so I would need a confirmation of whether amiability(amiableness) is the active/intent desire to please while affability(affableness) is the passive condition of actually pleasing regardless of any will to do so.

9
  • 1
    For me, amiable is more about willingness to do whatever makes others happy while affable is to do with being likable.
    – Jim
    Sep 19, 2019 at 19:46
  • 4
    Checking the meaning of words from their derivation rather than a dictionary is the etymological fallacy. Sep 19, 2019 at 20:32
  • @Jim A reductionist definition could be posible but for that we need to be able to associate and commutate the method to define words(If a is characterized by b and we define only b or If b is a quality of a and we define only a we should understand the same things for a and b regardless of the method we choose). Pluraritas no est ponenda sine necessitas. Someone amiable/affable is one who is characterized by amiability/affability(amiableness/affableness). Amiability is the active/intent desire to please while Affability is the passive condition of pleasing? Sep 19, 2019 at 20:36
  • 2
    George, I really hope you're not treating English (or any other generally used language) as mathematically rigorous. It won't work; the reasons why might make a good question for Linguistics.SE Sep 19, 2019 at 20:46
  • 1
    At present this question doesn't meet ELU standards (sorry); I encourage you to visit chat, or maybe to check the help site for what is expected. Sep 19, 2019 at 21:42

1 Answer 1

3

I don't know where you got the etymology from but Etymoline says

of persons, "open to conversation or approach," late 15c., from Old French affable "benign, approachable" (14c.), from Latin affabilis "approachable, courteous, kind, friendly," literally "who can be (easily) spoken to," from affari "to speak to," from ad "to", from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say".

In fact, the meaning I have emphasised was preserved in the modern use of the word:

Cambridge defines affable as meaning

friendly and easy to talk to: She was quite affable at the meeting.

And AHD says

Easy and pleasant to speak to; approachable.

(The same reference to speech is present in ineffable - which cannot be spoken, indescribable)

Amiable is more commonly used than than its other variant, amicable and than affable. Etymoline says about it:

late 14c., "kindly, friendly," also "worthy of love or admiration," from Old French amiable "pleasant, kind; worthy to be loved" (12c.), from Late Latin amicabilis "friendly," from Latin amicus "friend, loved one," noun use of an adjective, "friendly, loving," from amare "to love".

The form and sense were confused in Old French with amable "lovable" (from Latin amare "to love"), and by 16c. the English word also had a secondary sense of "exciting love or delight," especially by having an agreeable temper and a kind heart. The word was subsequently reborrowed by English in Latin form without the sense contamination as amicable.

Cambridge defines it as

pleasant and friendly

and AHD as

  1. Friendly and agreeable in disposition; good-natured and likable.
  2. Cordial; sociable; congenial: an amiable gathering.

There is definitely an overlap between the two in use, they can both mean pleasant and friendly, but these definitions show amiable to describe someone or something that is likable (easy to like), whereas affable someone or something that is approachable (easy to approach or talk to, therefore welcoming).

Having said all that, here is what a native speaker said about this issue on a forum

Affable: I'd use this to describe someone who gets on well with almost anybody. An affable person would most likely be considered kind and generous by people around them. For me it also carries the nuance that this person may be outgoing and extroverted as opposed to reserved and introverted.

Amiable: This word has a kind of flexible nature to it, like pliable or malleable. Maybe it's for this reason that I think of an amiable person as being someone who gets on well with others because they are able to look past their faults. There is a very slight nuance that an amiable person may be taken advantage of because they try their best to be amiable, as in they try to always be accommodating to others. An affable person would be more likely to speak their mind when they think something is off, whereas an amiable person might stay quiet and just go along with whatever it is.

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.