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Thread: The True Meaning of "Testimony" Meeting

  1. #1

    Default The True Meaning of "Testimony" Meeting

    My sister recently asked me to do a little digging into the linguistic similarities between between the words "testimony" and "testicles." After doing some reading on the topic, it appears that there is definitely a strong connection.

    [the best article I found on the topic is "Joshua T. Katz, "Testimonia Ritus Italici: Male Genitalia, Solemn Declarations, and a New Latin Sound Law" in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 98 (1998): 183-217.]

    In Latin, the word "testis," means both "testimony/witness" and "testicles." The word is probably derived from the Indo-European word *terstis, a combination of the words for "third" and "stand." So, "testis" seems to mean literally "standing as third." In legal terms, this probably refers to a witness being a "third party" or an onlooker who could provide information for the trial. However, the real difficulty with this etymology comes in understanding how a meaning dealing with "third" came to be equated to something that normally comes in pairs.

    In brief, it looks like testicles were an important part of the oath sworn by a witness to tell the truth, and it looks like it has ancient Indo-European roots.

    Two well known early examples of a relationship between oath-taking and genitals are found in Genesis 24 and in Genesis 47, where Abraham and Jacob have their servant and son (respectively) swear oaths by putting their hands under their master's/father's thigh. An oath with genitals in hand carried extra-strong signficance, the implication being that breaking it would curse not only the oath-taker, but all of his descendants.

    In ancient Greece, it seems that this practice changed from holding human testicles to using animal genitals. Demosthenes, an ancient Greek orator, informs us that in Athenian homicide trials, the witness would swear an extra-powerful oath while standing over the severed genitals of three sacrificed animals (ram, boar, bull). An Umbrian inscription taken from a find called the Iuguvine tablets, that dates from the earliest days of Rome describes an Italian (not necessarily but probably similar to Roman) oath with similar language. This Umbrian oath, however, ambiguously asserts that the oath-taker must hold "the disk(s)" in his hand. Katz is sure that the word meaning "disk" ("urfeta" in Umbrian) must refer to testicles. Whether this refers to the oath-taker's own testicles or the testicles of the sacrificed animal is unclear. Regardless, there are still genitals in hand as the oath is sworn.

    So, there seems to clearly be some strong connections between "testicles" and "testify," although the sometimes-repeated statement that Romans always did it in court is surely an exaggeration. More reasonably, there was an early connection that eventually diverged enough in meaning that we don't chuckle today when we hear the word "testimony," although playwrights such as Plautus punned on these words to great comic effect.

    So, the next time you hear about "the power of a strong testimony", I hope the 13-year-old inside of you snickers just a little.
    Last edited by Solon; 08-12-2009 at 06:15 PM.
    "More crazy people to Provo go than to any other town in the state."
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  2. #2

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    testis testis... one two three?
    "Be a philosopher. A man can compromise to gain a point. It has become apparent that a man can, within limits, follow his inclinations within the arms of the Church if he does so discreetly." - The Walking Drum

    "And here’s what life comes down to—not how many years you live, but how many of those years are filled with bullshit that doesn’t amount to anything to satisfy the requirements of some dickhead you’ll never get the pleasure of punching in the face." – Adam Carolla

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    Senior Member SteelBlue's Avatar
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    Well done Solon. I think you should submit an article to the Ensign.

  4. #4

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    I found that very entertaining...well done! (why was your sister researching testicles?)

    So, then.....was Michael Jackson performing an oath on himself whenever he danced?
    "Newton's First Law of Motion: ...things at rest tend to stay at rest. Things in motion, tend to stay in motion...."

    Hmm... Good motivation for me to remain active I guess.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Borg View Post
    I found that very entertaining...well done! (why was your sister researching testicles?)

    So, then.....was Michael Jackson performing an oath on himself whenever he danced?
    I think michael jackson was the greatest oath-taker of all time.

    My sister has a degree in linguistics and loves language. She wanted to know if what she had heard (that Romans had to testify in court holding their stones) was accurate. She had heard an exaggeration, but I was surprised to find that there was something to it.
    "More crazy people to Provo go than to any other town in the state."
    -- Iron County Record. 23 August, 1912. (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lc...23/ed-1/seq-4/)

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    Nothing short of awesome (now do you get it DDD?).

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    Receiver of Memory LA Ute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solon View Post
    So, there seems to clearly be some strong connections between "testicles" and "testify," although the sometimes-repeated statement that Romans always did it in court is surely an exaggeration. More reasonably, there was an early connection that eventually diverged enough in meaning that we don't chuckle today when we hear the word "testimony," although playwrights such as Plautus punned on these words to great comic effect.

    So, the next time you hear about "the power of a strong testimony", I hope the 13-year-old inside of you snickers just a little.
    Our former YM president and current WML loved the Roman version of this one so much that he repeatedly shared it with the priests whenever the subject of testimony came up. The boys never got tired of the explanation, of course. When he shared it a few times in Gospel Doctrine class, our (very easygoing) bishop took him aside and told him we'd all heard enough about the linguistic origins of "testimony." He's been quiet about it ever since. I miss hearing about that.
    “There is a great deal of difference in believing something still, and believing it again.”
    ― W.H. Auden


    "God made the angels to show His splendour - as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But men and women He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of their minds."
    -- Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons


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  8. #8

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    I have been laughing hard for the last five minutes. My wife finally asked if I was going to share what was so funny. When I did, she didn't think it was as funny as I did. I can't wait to bring this up in some church lesson.
    Dio perdona tante cose per un’opera di misericordia
    God forgives many things for an act of mercy
    Alessandro Manzoni

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    The Dude Jeff Lebowski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solon View Post
    So, the next time you hear about "the power of a strong testimony", I hope the 13-year-old inside of you snickers just a little.
    Mission accomplished. Thanks for that.
    So that's what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

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    sweet triple TripletDaddy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UtahDan View Post
    Nothing short of awesome (now do you get it DDD?).
    no!!! I still need more help.
    Fitter. Happier. More Productive.


  11. #11

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    You outdid yourself Solon... I'm going to be happily snickering first Sunday in September...

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    Has overcome great fear Green Lantern's Avatar
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    Default Modern Incarnation

    You know, even today, some escorts and call girls will require the prospective client to place his hand on her genitals while testifying that he is not, in fact, a member of law enforcement. Apparently, a sting operation against prostitutes doesn't work too well if the cop involved has partaken of the goods.

    See, I knew those TNT marathons of Law & Order: SVU were doing some good.

  13. #13
    The Dude Jeff Lebowski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Green Lantern View Post
    Apparently, a sting operation against prostitutes doesn't work too well if the cop involved has partaken of the goods.
    Go tell that to Jimmy McNulty.

    Welcome to the board, btw.
    So that's what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

  14. #14
    Has overcome great fear Green Lantern's Avatar
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    Cheers.

    And fortunately McNulty was smart enough to work around that: Partake. And then have your partners make the arrest. Way to go Jimmy. Testify!

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