Myth Or Fact: Does The Word ‘Testify’ Come From ‘Testicles’?

Folklore has it that the word ‘testify’ comes from the word testis, the Latin word for testicles. The theory is based on the assumption that in ancient Rome, when two men were taking an oath in a public forum, in order to express their truthfulness they were holding and swearing upon their testicles. Presumably, if one party broke the oath, his testicles would have been lopped off.

Amusing story indeed, but is it true? Did the Romans actually swear on their private parts hence the origin of the word ‘testify’?

Let’s find out. (the article continues after the ad)

Even though we can’t be 100% sure, it’s highly unlikely that this is the case for two main reasons. Yes, the word testify does come from testis, but the word testis in Latin has two meanings: witness and testicles. I don’t really think that i have to explain why witness makes much more sense than testicles but the etymology of the word makes things clearer. Testis actually derives from the Indo-European word for ‘three’. This is because Romans considered witnesses only third parties – people who didn’t have a side on a specific dispute and could therefore, tell the story as it really was. Supporters of the myth seem to forget this etymology and choose the “testicles oath”. But there’s a huge problem with that part of the story as well.

There is no written confirmation suggesting that Romans were swearing while grabbing their testicles. There are numerous passages that describe Roman oaths and customs in the Latin corpus, but there is no reference to this particular oath whatsoever. That being said, swearing on the testicles is indeed mentioned in the Old Testament as “grasping the thigh” but even that was on the testicles of the king, not on their own. There is no evidence that this was also used in ancient Rome, especially when we are talking about an entirely different era.

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: Myth Or Fact: Do Workers Who Cut Up Pineapples Eventually Have No Fingerprints Due To ‘Bromelain’? 

Photo: US National Archives
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: Did the ancient Romans swear upon their testicles when making oaths? | testify – | Swearing on one’s testicles

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