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So let go of your balls
July 15, 2009 6:44 PM   Subscribe

The origin of the word testimony probably has nothing to do with Romans taking oaths while holding their testicles, though interpreting the Bible in a certain way might make you think so.
posted by swift (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, "dichotomy" is probably not what you're thinking...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:46 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I swear on my balls I didn't take that last Mars Bar.
posted by nola at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2009


There's a vas defrens between swearing on the bible and swearing on one's testicles.

I've used this line on MeFi before, but I couldn't resist.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:51 PM on July 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


I wouldn't touch her with YOUR testimony!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:52 PM on July 15, 2009


I couldn't find it on short notice, but not too long ago I read a scholarly article in a journal of classics or philology that made a strong case for the word testimony being related to testis. I'm pretty sure that at least historical precedent cited in the article was swearing on a sacrificial bull's testicles.
posted by stopgap at 6:56 PM on July 15, 2009


Heh. Years ago, in another life, I actually heard this very claim in law school from a feminist law lecturer. I believed her too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:58 PM on July 15, 2009


Ah, I believe this is it.
posted by stopgap at 6:58 PM on July 15, 2009


Balzac's testimony regarding France's nuts-and-bolts was not bollocks; rather, it could be said that his works were the crown jewels of European realism.

Testicles.
posted by defenestration at 7:08 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I realize this exposes my linguistic ignorance, but there are plenty of homonyms in English that, whether they come from similar roots or not, have unrelated meanings. Can't that be the case for Latin as well, especially regarding words adopted from another language?
posted by klangklangston at 7:11 PM on July 15, 2009


Is this riffing on the Pride & Prejudice & Zombies thing? Because that guy just couldn't leave a ball pun hanging.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:12 PM on July 15, 2009


I've always thought of "rectify" as one of the dirtiest words in English, myself.
posted by rokusan at 7:15 PM on July 15, 2009


I'm gonna start calling my balls "the bystanders" from now on. Has a nice ring to it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:21 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Taters!
posted by ericb at 7:34 PM on July 15, 2009


I've solved it!

After careful investigation, it has been determined that the word testis and the word testimony share the first five letters of each word.

It is also a historical reference to the well known and loved style of entertainment in the Circus Maximus, a Roman minstrel show that was titled "Vos have vulnero meus testis".

Or what klangklangston said.
posted by Xoebe at 7:36 PM on July 15, 2009


Testify against her? I hardly oh never mind.
posted by brundlefly at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2009


I realize this exposes my linguistic ignorance, but there are plenty of homonyms in English that, whether they come from similar roots or not, have unrelated meanings. Can't that be the case for Latin as well, especially regarding words adopted from another language?

Yeh, but there's usually evidence that a sound merger has happened to make two previously unrelated words sound the same, or that one meaning has emerged from another. Borrowing is also a good way to end up with that situation, but leaves even more evidence. In this case, the new meaning was so idiomatic and culturally bound, that without explanation it appears random. I didn't know there was a ? over the word's etymology, but hey.

Oh, and interestingly, in English we call false testimony, 'bollocks'.
posted by Sova at 7:47 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


This might be true, insofar as the biblical practice is concerned. Ancient oathtaking involved all sorts of bodily gestures that we'd consider strange. Things like exchanging sandals to ratify a contract, removing a sandal to signify non-performance of an obligation. The act of putting a hand underneath the patriarch's thigh could be an oblique reference to contact with the genitals. Biblical authors are famously circumspect where the naughty bits are concerned. But it might also be a simple reference to contact with the patriarch's body. A sign of bodily submission of some sort. It's simply impossible to tell.

The phenomenology of oathtaking nearly always involves some sort of reference to a superordinate authority or an authorizing body. It's a human instinct, maybe, to gesture beyond one's self to demonstrate what's at stake when we take an oath upon ourselves. We often swear on sacred texts or by the things we love. The ancients oriented themselves in relation to the natural world or in relation to a temple, or the body of a patriarch. Is that really any weirder?
posted by felix betachat at 8:03 PM on July 15, 2009


I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I've got a really hung jury.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:29 PM on July 15, 2009


How many angry men does it take...
posted by lysdexic at 8:37 PM on July 15, 2009


defenestration, are you speaking of Testicles of "Testicles and the Sack of Rome" fame or some other Testicles?
posted by Severian at 8:43 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


nebulawindphone, how about you think of others for a change and skip those tight pants?
posted by bystander at 1:35 AM on July 16, 2009


There's a vas defrens between swearing on the bible and swearing on one's testicles.

This is probably the seminal pun on this subject.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:43 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it to do with Romans making oaths while holding someone else's testicles?
posted by MuffinMan at 3:42 AM on July 16, 2009


The subject has come up on Metafilter before in this thread.

In that discussion I posted this link (your ability to access JSTOR may vary) to the most usually accepted article on the subject of testis in the senses of both "witness" and "testicle": Testimonia Ritus Italici: Male Genitalia, Solemn Declarations, and a New Latin Sound Law Joshua T. Katz Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 98. (1998), pp. 183-217. Things are obviously a bit more complicated than they are being presented here.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 6:22 AM on July 16, 2009


And that's probably where I first saw that article. It figures that I learned about it on MetaFilter. Like most everything else interesting I've learned in the last ten years.
posted by stopgap at 8:55 AM on July 16, 2009


Testimony?
That's what she said.
posted by Kabanos at 10:39 AM on July 16, 2009


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