virtue/ virtue etymology

< Previous | Next >


New Member
this is my first post so you may critique ruthlessly and I won't mind.
I am an adult student of philosophy (groan)/moral psychology but this question does not relate to any specific assessment task.
I am interested in the etymology of the word virtue and the word's relation to the Latin root virtu.
A point to note is that Machiavelli resurrected the term virtu to underwrite certain of his ' Machiavellian' principles. The Latin word denotes qualities desirable in a military general.
Today the the word virtue has connotations that seem a little mawkish by comparison.
Another thing to note is that the notion of virtue excited interest in Victorian Britain (and consequentially post-Thatcher Britain)
Mindful of venturing into any annoying ideological or political territory has anyone any interesting insights and comments on this topic?
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    Welcome to the forums, passim.

    Your question is both specific—what is the etymology—and a rather vague, general request for "insights and comments". The specific part is easy.

    Online etymology dictionary offers this:

    early 13c., "moral life and conduct, moral excellence," vertu, from Anglo-Fr. and O.Fr. vertu, from L. virtutem (nom. virtus) "moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth," from vir "man" (see virile). Phrase by virtue of (early 13c.) preserves alternative M.E. sense of "efficacy." Wyclif Bible has virtue where K.J.V. uses power. The seven cardinal virtues (early 14c.) were divided into the natural (justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude) and the theological (hope, faith, charity). To make a virtue of a necessity (late 14c.) translates L. facere de necessitate virtutem. [Jerome]
    As to the other part(s) of your thread topic, I need to point out the purpose of this forum. It is a discussion place to examine usage of English terms. Accordingly, we
    usually try to focus on the specifics of how a word is used today, or the precise usages
    of a term within a specific context. That's where we need more precision from you.
    If you can point us towards a time, a setting, a work in which the word is or was used,
    we can reply usefully, or at least try to do so.

    What we don't attempt here is a free-for-all collection of comments, especially in regard to how an equivalent term in another language was used unless that has specific bearing on English usage. For example, you mention Machiavelli. I am assuming that your comment referred to his use of an Italian word that you believe to be equivalent to an English term. That's outside the scope of this monolingual forum.

    Please try to focus your question so that it is limited to English usage.

    Back to etymology: The Compact Oxford English Dictionary gives a more compact one:

    ORIGIN Latin virtus ‘valour, merit, moral perfection’, from vir ‘man’.


    New Member
    Thank you Cuchuflete.
    The compact OED entry you provided,
    ORIGIN Latin virtus ‘valour, merit, moral perfection’, from vir

    points to several meanings held within the term. Contemporary English usage stresses 'moral perfection' hinging upon a range of virtues such as prudence, fortitude, and so forth whereas past
    usages might emphasize 'valour.' E.g. the use of power for virtue in the KJV bible.
    I get it now.
    Yes, the second part of my question was vague and irrelevant to this forum. I get that now too.

    < Previous | Next >