Archive for July, 2012

Audire or Audere: Does Auditing mean “to listen” or “to dare”?

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

What is auditing? Many books and websites explain that auditing is derived from the Latin word audire.  Audire means to hear or to listen.  Audio: I hear.  Audis: You hear.  Audit: He, she, it hears. And so on.  Other sources surprised me: The word is supposed to be derived from the Latin root “audere”: to risk something, to dare.  Audeo, audes, audet, audemus, audetis, audent.

Both versions stimulate the imagination:

Yes, auditors should listen to their clients – they should not demonstrate their superior knowledge of financial matters in endless monologues. To listen: This should be the heart of our profession, shouldn´t it?

Or: Yes, auditors should dare to speak out what is necessary to say; they should not write or say what everybody would like to hear.  Sapere aude! – Like Horace, Kant and later Foucault said: Dare to know! This also is the very heart of our profession, isn´t it?

But how can we have two hearts in our breast?  What is at the root of our profession: The ability to listen or the ability to dare?

We all know other words deduced from the Latin root “audire”. An audio cassette is a device to hear something. An auditorium is an assembly of people who listen. An audience is a kind of hearing.*  My good old school dictionary, the Stowasser (Munich 1971), determines: Auditor, auditoris, m. hearer, listener.  In etymological terms, the question seems to be more or less clear** : The audit is a one way ticket of reception. But is this all?

A hearing could have different meanings: It could be hearing oppressed statements under torture –this is probably what a sadist would like to hear;  it could be hearing a confession in the confessional – this way of hearing is the task of a priest; it could be hearing the complaints of a patient – doctors have to listen to those;  it could be hearing the lies of a client – lawyers are trained to listen to those; or it could be hearing the secrets of a friend – this would be the duty of a friend. We all know auditors, who act as if they are torturers, priests, lawyers, doctors or good friends, don’t we?

On the other side, there is no hearing without questions. There is no hearing without conclusion in the mind of the listener. I suppose  it is not by chance that the Latin words “audere” and “audire” are so similar. In fact, both activities are interlinked: If you dare to put the right questions, you may listen to a meaningful answer. If you listen carefully, you will find the right questions. If you make a conclusion, it is sometimes challenging to tell the insight to the client. The way of finding the truth is a dialogue.

There are different modes of discourse (as Foucault said) which reach from inquisition to the most tender notions. Foucault even supposes a highly developed practice of listening and daring in the Greco-Roman culture. It seems as if in the ancient world, these elements were more closely related than in our world.

Which element in auditing is more important – sensitivity or bravery – I dare not say. But usually, I do not find these qualities in standard audit work papers. As our comedian W. Neuss said: “It is not sufficient, to have no opinion; moreover, you are also required to be unable to express it.”

Frank Fabel, CPA, MA

*  Less known:  When the German car engineer Mr. Horch left the Horch-factories, he founded a competing car manufacturing company. Because of trademark rights, he chose the Latin translation of the German word “horch!” for its name, which is “audi!” or “listen!” in English. In other words, if you drive an AUDI, you drive a car with the name “Listen!”.

**…  “The verb is attested from 1557.  Auditor id attested from 1377, from Anglo-Fr. auditour, from L. auditorem (nom. auditor) “a hearer,” from auditus”. Some sources use the word “audere” in the meaning “to hear”, “to listen”.