Dictionary.com

Lexical Investigations: Fiat

fiat, genesisThe origin of the word fiat in English is connected to the origin of the world itself. Taken from the Latin meaning “let it be done,” this word appears in the Latin translation of Genesis, the first book of the bible, when God proclaimed “let there be light” (fiat lux). As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical allusions, as in John Donne’s 1597 poem The Storm. In it he writes that there will be darkness unless “God say/Another Fiat.”

It was not until the 1630s that English speakers started using fiat to describe an “authoritative decree,” often issued by royalty or clergy—two groups that depended on divine right for their power. By the turn of the 19th century, English speakers applied fiat’s meaning to less-than-Godly legal manners. The phrase “fiat in bankruptcy” gained popularity at this time. Later that century, the concept of “fiat money,” or currency that has no intrinsic value, but that the government gives a value to by declaring it legal tender, took its place in English-speaking minds.

The name of Fiat, the Italian car company, is an acronym, not only a nod to this powerful word. Its name originally stood for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, meaning loosely “Italian automobile factory of Turin,” the region in which the country was founded.

According to the Google Ngram Viewer, the word “fiat” peaked in usage in the 1840s, possibly due to the political upheaval of the revolutions of 1848.

Popular References

Fiat Lux: a Latin phrase which literally translates “let there be light” from Genesis 1:3.

Fiat: an Italian auto manufacturer, founded in 1899.

Fiat money: money that has value because the government says it has value.

Relevant Quotations

“Ignoring an official fiat against the popular Rebel song ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag,’ Booth began to sing it in full voice one evening while walking down the street with several companions.”

—C. Brian Kelly, Ingrid Smyer-Kelly, Best Little Ironies, Oddities, and Mysteries of the Civil War (2000)

“The despot ruled by fiat; if there were laws, they were given by him (or his predecessors) and he could withdraw or ignore them.”

—D. W. Treadgold, The West in Russia and China, Volume 2 (1973)

59 Comments

  1. John npaul -  November 29, 2014 - 11:47 am

    Omitted from this article is Mary’s “Fiat” to the angel gabriel: “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.”

    Reply
  2. passerby5 -  April 7, 2014 - 5:39 am

    @passerby3: as you seem to possess incredible amounts of wit and wisdom, let me ask you this: What scale are you thinking of that might have a “short end”? And is it not common practice to spell “I” as a capitalised i? He who sits in a glass house…

    Reply
  3. kanishka -  September 14, 2013 - 8:52 pm

    Well said roshni

    Reply
  4. Im Roshni Kainthan -  August 27, 2013 - 1:45 pm

    Really? some of you guys would rather search for spelling errors than actually enjoy the article? you guys have to remember that dictionary.com isnt an actualy dictionary but a group of nice people who spend their time bringing us these nice articles. and god forbid them from being human and putting in a spelling error i mean seriously there only human. so please remember that next time you grammar nazi’s go looking for errors on dictionary.com.

    Reply
  5. Lisa -  August 20, 2013 - 8:26 am

    I thought this article was about the word soul mate??? Where might that article be, I wonder.

    Reply
  6. Dee -  August 18, 2013 - 6:22 am

    Dear God!
    All of you stupid adults harping on a few mistakes just because it’s an online dictionary! Seriously?

    Reply
  7. passerby 4 -  August 17, 2013 - 7:20 pm

    good thought passerby 3

    Reply
  8. passerby 3 -  August 17, 2013 - 7:18 pm

    The person who typed the article here is a little on the short end of the typing skills scale i would say…

    Reply
  9. Ben -  August 16, 2013 - 10:52 pm

    Some of you people are being a bit ridiculous. The fact that minor errors that do not change the purpose of the article are present is not “egregious”. Did a dictionary write this article? No, a human being who is not incapable of making mistakes did. Get off your high horses please, for the sake of your own well being.

    Reply
  10. passer by -  August 16, 2013 - 9:57 pm

    *not

    Reply
  11. passer by -  August 16, 2013 - 9:56 pm

    IT should be ALLUSIONS noe ILLUSIONS

    Reply
  12. ptheibert -  August 16, 2013 - 8:06 am

    If you are a non-believer, you can argue that the bible has many illusions.

    Reply
  13. Jeanmarie -  August 15, 2013 - 6:18 pm

    I appreciate having learned the term, “fiat money”. This term describes the currency of the United States of America. There may be some illusion regarding the value of this currency.

    Reply
  14. Tom1945 -  August 15, 2013 - 12:21 pm

    Do you posters not bother to read prior posts? Or do you think your repetition makes you sound intelligent?

    Reply
  15. Ettore -  August 15, 2013 - 9:52 am

    Gianfranco correct! at the foot of the Mountain or Piemonte!

    Reply
  16. CMC -  August 15, 2013 - 9:03 am

    I believe the “biblical ‘ILLUSIONS’” should be “biblical ‘ALLUSIONS’”…

    Reply
  17. Rob -  August 15, 2013 - 8:36 am

    Yes, it must say “the city in which the company was founded”, as the company was founded in the city of Turin (Torino, in Italian)

    Reply
  18. Emperator -  August 15, 2013 - 8:18 am

    Illusions or allusions?

    Reply
  19. Tommaso -  August 15, 2013 - 7:33 am

    It should be “the TOWN in which the COMPANY was founded”…

    Reply
  20. ECM -  August 15, 2013 - 6:52 am

    In the first paragraph, you say, “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions”, but it looks like what you meant was “allusions”. Please clarify for your readers the difference between these two words, which can so easily be confused with each other.

    Reply
  21. anurag -  August 15, 2013 - 6:48 am

    good observation Passer By!!

    Reply
  22. Jamie -  August 15, 2013 - 6:00 am

    Shouldn’t biblical “illusions” be “allusions”? Do I get to write this column now?

    Reply
  23. Moonmaiden -  August 15, 2013 - 5:03 am

    Should that read ‘biblical allusions’ in the first paragraph? In any case I love this site :-)

    Reply
  24. ram singh -  August 15, 2013 - 4:41 am

    I owned one of these cars FIAT 124 in the seventy’s. Was cheap on gas, fast and reliable. I also travelled to TURIN but never knew the origin of the word. Of course, there was no internet then to refer to.

    Reply
  25. Alex -  August 15, 2013 - 2:28 am

    Yes, to me these 2 comments are valid.
    Which expert linguist wrote this article?!

    Reply
  26. Jake -  August 14, 2013 - 11:37 pm

    In the first paragraph, a sentence reads: As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions, as in John Donne’s 1597 poem The Storm.”

    Do you not mean “biblical allusions?” This seems like a bad error to me.

    Reply
  27. ninawilliams -  August 14, 2013 - 10:27 pm

    until I saw the receipt of $8823, I be certain that my father in law could really receiving money in their spare time on there computer.. there aunts neighbor has been doing this for less than 6 months and recently cleared the mortgage on there home and got themselves a Land Rover Range Rover. read more at,

    Reply
  28. JT -  August 14, 2013 - 9:37 pm

    The first paragraph reads, “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions…” Shouldn’t this say ALLUSIONS instead of ILLUSIONS? You would think a dictionary website could know the difference between 2 words, that’s a 9th grade skill at the highest…

    Reply
  29. Interesting -  August 14, 2013 - 9:03 pm

    If I may…

    I’m not entirely certain, but would it be biblical “allusions”?

    Reply
  30. Jory Piccinino -  August 14, 2013 - 6:39 pm

    “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions”–

    I think the writer here, ironically of Dictionary.com, means to say “allusions,” as in something “alluded to,” a reference made.

    Reply
  31. Nick Burton -  August 14, 2013 - 5:48 pm

    Ya it should be The company was founded.. and p.s. The NBA is crooked they only have love for money and not the sport. they only pick the bandwagon teams to win for the money. They know that the toads will pay 100$ for a piecce of shit Lakers jersey.. Screw the nba

    Reply
  32. Hebeestie Wallopman -  August 14, 2013 - 2:30 pm

    Passer by, maybe Fiat founded a country to contain their company.

    Reply
  33. PaperFace -  August 14, 2013 - 2:25 pm

    Thoughts :
    “Meaning LOOSELY” – Don’t lean so heavily on this translation, as the author is stressing here!

    “The region in which…” – It is entirely possible that the fabrication efforts were from many areas in the REGION? Not just Turin?

    @Passer By – Good catch. Most likely…

    Reply
  34. Yorkshirelad -  August 14, 2013 - 1:56 pm

    A lexicographic article and you use the phrase” . . . uses of fiat were biblical illusions . . .” – surely you mean “allusions”. Please consult a dictionary in future.

    Reply
  35. Bemused1 -  August 14, 2013 - 1:19 pm

    I believe the word the writer was seeking was allusions, not illusions. Writers and speakers were making allusions to the Bible, though they may have had illusions at the same time.

    Reply
  36. A Proofreader -  August 14, 2013 - 10:26 am

    Or Biblical Allusions?

    Reply
  37. Lori -  August 14, 2013 - 10:12 am

    Many of the first uses were Biblical *allusions*.

    Reply
  38. DAVE HARDING -  August 14, 2013 - 9:08 am

    I was told it meant “Fix it again tomorrow!”

    Reply
  39. bookbeater -  August 14, 2013 - 8:57 am

    ok i’ll point out the poor use of illusions tsk tsk

    Reply
  40. Michael Poplawski -  August 14, 2013 - 8:29 am

    “Biblical illusions” for the proofreading hat trick.

    I think you mean “biblical allusions”.

    Reply
  41. svenjamin -  August 14, 2013 - 8:09 am

    All this time I thought FIAT stood for “Fix It Again Tony”, go figure!

    Reply
  42. KUNTURMARKA -  August 14, 2013 - 6:38 am

    This short article has three egregious errors that are unforgivable in a website devoted to knowledge in general and to the origins and meanings of words in particular:

    1. “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions…”. This sentence should read “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical ALLUSION…”. From dictionary.com:

    Allusion (n). A passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication; the act or practice of making a casual or indirect reference to something; the act of alluding.

    2. “…the region in which the country was founded…”. In fact, Torino (Turin), as has been mentioned in an earlier comment, is a PROVINCE, not a region, of which the capital is the CITY of Torino.

    3. The sentence above, as another commenter noted, should end “…in which the COMPANY (or MANUFACTURER) was founded…”.

    Please correct these mistakes.

    Reply
  43. Gabrielle -  August 14, 2013 - 6:22 am

    Same thing with “illusion”…should be “allusion”. !!

    Reply
  44. Whatever -  August 14, 2013 - 5:00 am

    Biblical “illusions”? I think that should be “allusions”.

    Reply
  45. Visitor -  August 14, 2013 - 4:38 am

    Biblical allusions, perhaps?

    Reply
  46. Another Passer By -  August 13, 2013 - 10:51 pm

    “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions…”

    Shouldn’t that be allusions?

    Reply
  47. Mark -  August 13, 2013 - 6:21 pm

    I always thought FIAT stood for Fix It Again Tony.

    Reply
  48. ffeff -  August 13, 2013 - 4:24 pm

    “As a result, many early uses of fiat were biblical illusions…”
    How shameful of a DICTIONARY to make this kind of mistake. Allusions is the word that is wanted. Yikes.

    Reply
  49. Michael Chesworth -  August 13, 2013 - 3:22 pm

    Oh, I don’t think Donne “yused” fiat. That’s what comes of typing with 10 thumbs!

    Reply
  50. Michael Chesworth -  August 13, 2013 - 3:21 pm

    The first paragraph talks about Biblical illusions. The context of Donne’s reference is to the yuse of Fiat in Genesis.

    In that case, should that not be “allusions”?

    Reply
  51. Clark -  August 13, 2013 - 2:13 pm

    In the second sentence of the second paragraph, “Manners” should be “matters”.

    Reply
  52. Clark -  August 13, 2013 - 2:09 pm

    In the third sentence of the first paragraph, the word, “illusions” should be “allusions”.

    Reply
  53. JCAV -  August 13, 2013 - 1:24 pm

    I thought it stood for Fix It Again Tony…

    Reply
  54. JCAV -  August 13, 2013 - 1:23 pm

    Passer By.. nice catch.

    Reply
  55. ko -  August 13, 2013 - 12:28 pm

    not illusion, but allusion. What kind of dictionary site are you?

    Reply
  56. Archon -  August 13, 2013 - 9:49 am

    Many early uses of the word FIAT, would be Biblical “Allusions”!

    Reply
  57. Passer By -  August 13, 2013 - 5:53 am

    It reads “the region in which the country was founded.”

    shouldn’t that be “the region in which the COMPANY was founded.” ?

    Reply
  58. Gianfranco -  August 13, 2013 - 2:27 am

    Turin is not a region but a city of over one million inhabitants. The region is called Piemonte, cognate with English Piedmont – both meaning “at the foot of the mountains”.

    Reply

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