An avalising bank is a "bank that ensures payment on a note, bond, or other debt instrument in the event of default. ... the avalising bank is not a party to the transaction in any other way".

What is the etymology of avalising, and when was it first used? Is there an infinitival form of it in English?

(Presumably it's from French avaliser, "To back, to support; to endorse", but I haven't found much more than that.)

(Note: I encountered this word on page 75 of Len Deighton's 1988 novel Spy Hook:

... Werner made his money by avalising, which means he financed East European exports to the West with hard currency borrowed from anywhere he could get it. He paid high interest and he lived on narrow margins. ...

Apparently Deighton's understanding of the term is grittier than the dictionary definition.)

  • I would have, but for its localized nature. – Kris Feb 4 '12 at 4:45


It's an even more recent word in English. The earliest I found (not counting French-English dictionaries) is from 1975.

Avali[s|z]e[|d|r|ing] barely registers with Google Ngrams Viewer.

Chart showing different forms of avalising, only showing some versions from around 1950 onwards.

A snippet of a what appears to be a 1975 edition of Euromoney says:


Often, notes carry an "aval" (unconditional commitment to pay by an avalizing bank) or a separate payment guarantee. It is essential that in the case of guarantees separate from the underlying trade obligations, the guarantees are irrevocable, unconditional and transferable.


However, the financial term aval is a bit older in English, although often written in italics or quote marks that suggests it's uncommon or a loanword.

In the following 1843 edition of The Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review, they are clearly discussing the French system and writing Aval and pour Aval in italics as foreign words:

Inland Exchange they frequent In respect to the former Guaranty of Bills it is well known and in much use coses of foreign Bills in France and other parts of Continental Europe In France is known by the name of Aval and in Germany at least when a Latin appellation affixed to it by the name of Avalhim This guaranty is usually placed at the of the Bill of Exchange from which circumstance it is said to derive its name sometimes it is written upon a separate paper The effect in France and ether foreign countries of this Aval or Guaranty sub scribed at the bottom of the Bill is that it binds the Guarantor in solido and him to the like obligations as the party on the Bill for whom he has given it at least unless there is some different stipulation made by the parties and also entitles him the like rights as the same party It amounts therefore in effect to a guaranty the party for whom it is given shall perform all the obligations which the Bill imports on his part The usual manner of accomplishing this purpose is that the of the Guarantor is preceded by the words pour Aval But this is not indispensable for any equivalent form will do and even the name of the Guarantor alone written blank may if that is the usage bind the party as a Guarantor where it is clear that he is not liable as an Indorser on the Bill It follows from what has been said that in the French and Foreign Law this contract of Aval or Guaranty when on the face of the Bill is in the absence of any restrictive or controlling words an agreement partaking of the character of the Bill itself and is negotiable and passes to and gives the same rights to the Holder of the Bill if it were made personally to himself and subjects him to the like obligations And quality is beyond question highly important to the true value and easy circulation free credit of Bills of Exchange The like rule seems to prevail among the German Civilians and it probably also prevails among the nations of Continental Europe generally and it is fully recognized in the law of Scotland

It's defined as a French declaration in the The dictionary of trade products, manufacturing, and technical terms (1858):


And it's also defined as part of Canadian law in A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America (1868):


The French law is discussed in 1811, 1814, 1839, 1854, 1864 and 1868, and of course in many French-English dictionaries.

It seems as these laws and contracts became more common in English-speaking countries, so the term was used more. One interesting excerpt can be found in The Law Quarterly Review of 1888. In a review of an English translation of The French Code of Commerce on the top of page 102, they imply the French word was in common use and well understood:


On the other hand, the translation of 'aval' by 'surety' (art. 141) is calculated to mislead. The word 'aval' belongs to the universal phraseology of the law merchant.


The French aval has Persian roots. A snippet from Roman Ghirshman's 1951 Iran from the Earliest Times to the Islamic Conquest (and repeated in full here) seems to suggest:


The bill has been known since the second millenium BC but its use had been limited, and in effect was no more than the recognition of a debt fixing ther date of repayment. In the Sassanian period [224-637 AD] it became a legally recognised title-deed. The banks of the empire run by Iranians or Jews employed a highly developed system of monetary exchange by writing. How many financiers and bankers know, for example, that the word 'cheque' or the term avaliser come from the Pahlavi language and were invented by the Iranian banking institutions of this remote age?

From Wikipedia:

Hawala has its origins in classical Islamic law and is mentioned in texts of Islamic jurisprudence as early as the 8th century. Hawala itself later influenced the development of the agency in common law and in civil laws, such as the aval in French law and the avallo in Italian law. The words aval and avallo were themselves derived from hawala.


In French avaliser is a recent word, first used ca. 1875, in French it means to 'give an aval' where aval was used from ca 1100 to mean something that is towards the bottom, or lower, usually talking about rivers or hills: the 'aval' side would be the side where one would move without effort (flow, roll) as opposed to the 'amont' for which energy is required. Later aval was used as basis, like in a guarantee.

  • 1
    "mont" and "val" correspond to "mountain" and "valley" in modern English. – MetaEd Feb 3 '12 at 17:06
  • OED: OFr. avaler, f. phr. à val :- L. ad vallem 'to the valley'; = Pr. avalar, Ital. avallare; cf. amount v., Fr. amonter, f. à mont, L. ad montem. – John Lawler Feb 3 '12 at 21:11
  • @JohnLawler Hugo's answer derives the word from Islamic law. What do you think? – MetaEd Feb 3 '12 at 23:17

According to Wikipedia, the avalising bank puts their endorsement (aval) on the instrument. They cite OED deriving the word “from the French à val (‘at the bottom’); according to the Trésor de la langue française, it is probably an abbreviation of the formula à valoir”.

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