Last Saturday, President Donald Trump announced that, “Subject to the receipt of further information,” he will be allowing, “the long blocked and classified JFK files to be opened.” The fact that the JFK dossier was due to be released this week anyway is neither here nor there. (Although if we could find a word that means “to publicize the release of something confidential that was due to be released anyway”, you can guarantee that it would have found its way onto the Twitter feed this week.)
Nevertheless, the time has arrived: the majority of these previously classified documents was released yesterday, and the first revelations from them are now beginning to appear in the news—which brings us to patefaction.
Patefaction is the act of revealing or disclosing something; to patefy, likewise, is to make something known or clear.
First used in English in the sixteenth century, patefaction derives from a Latin word, patere, literally meaning “to open”, and it’s this sense of casting something open so that all can see or appreciate it that has been carried through to the word today.
That makes patefaction an etymological cousin of the adjective patent, as in “patently obvious”, as well as a clutch of less familiar words like patulous (“gaping open, expanded”) and patible, the horizontal bar of a crucifix (in the sense that it forcibly “opens” a victim’s arms). The humble patio might be a distant relative of patefaction too (although a more liekly theory is that it comes to us from an unrelated Provençal word meaning “communal land”).
Besides their etymologies, a clear sense of openness and exposure still connects these words in English today. Though according to reports, you’ll have to wait another six months for the JFK dossier to be fully opened—or rather, patefied—once and for all.