“Absolutely,” we say when we’re convinced of something—a great and powerful little word–so powerful, we may get through our whole lives without noticing its origin and commonalities with other words.

It’s got solve in it, like dissolve, solution, solubility, solvent, and absolve. Solve is from the Latin, Solvere which means to unfasten or free. Its prefix is ab-, which means away from. Absolutely, therefore means to unfasten or free away from. Absolution means loosening away from some past association or misdeed, as in absolve someone of a sin.

An absolute can be thought of as something completely dissociated from anything else. In politics, absolutism is a political theory holding that all power should be vested in one ruler or other authority. The absolutist leader or authority is not constrained by checks and balances. He is accountable to no one.

We say, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What “absolutely” means here is a little ambiguous. Does it mean “for sure,” as in there’s a 100% chance that absolute power will corrupt? Does it mean that the corruption is absolute, as in the absolutely powerful become 100% corrupt? I think it might mean that absolute power corrupts by means of its absoluteness. When a leader is unfastened or freed away from all feedback or constraint, it is by means of this loosening or freeing away that the corruption occurs.

In general, absolutism is any absolute doctrine, principle, or standard. It’s a stand-alone principle. In this it’s like an orthodoxy. Doxy is a belief. Ortho- means straight or correct—pure. An absolutist embraces read-only values, values that must be applied but can never be edited or modified.

Absolutism is exhilarating. It’s fun to believe something with absolute 100% confidence. In his book “On Being Certain” neuroscientist Robert Burton argues that the pleasure of feeling right is as visceral and fundamental as pure pleasure. Feeling right is like catnip to humans.

It is of course dangerous too. The absolutist becomes a juggernaut on an unalterable course. In a world of game-changing events, its very likely that the absolutist’s unalterable course will eventually become a collision course.

Me, I’m into paradoxy. Para- meaning against. A paradox is what you get when two ideas are juxtaposed or in conflict with each other, belief against belief. I find greater meaning in these than in orthodoxies. You could say that paradoxes are my orthodoxy.

In everyday conversation “absolutely” is a superlative. It means, in effect, “I couldn’t agree with you more.” Language suffers chronic superlative inflation, especially these days when everything has to be affirmed as greater than great. We keep on having to come up with new superlatives as our old one wear out: Cool, great, keen, neat, spiffy, gnarly, awesome—they lose their potency so quickly. Awesome originally means something like awe-inspiring. But when people start saying, “Oh, awesome, you bought some more chips,” it probably no longer means awe-inspiring, unless the person saying it is stoned and experiencing a very intense case of the munchies. In that exceptional case, its original meaning may be sustained.

Otherwise, “absolutely,” shouldn’t be taken too literally. In everyday use it usually just means something like “yup.”

“Absolutely,” suggests that an idea can stand alone, completely on its own and need not be connected to or modified by any others. To my mind, very few ideas can, but then I’m a paradoxicalist. I think examining the tensions between ideas is more awesomeful than embracing absolute ideas.