Does the word testify (with its associated forms like testimony and testament) come from testicle?
All these words come from the Latin testis meaning witness. The ultimately etymology of the Latin word is uncertain with the usual explanation being that the testes or testicles are witnesses to or prove a man’s virility. Some suggest that the Latin words for the witness and the reproductive organs are unrelated, with testa, meaning pot or shell, being the source for the latter.
The noun testament appears in the early 14th century. From Robert Manning of Brunne’s Langtoft’s Chronicle, written c.1330:
Þre þousand marke he gaf with testament fulle right.
(Three thousand marks [approx. two thousand pounds sterling] he gave with testament full right.)
The verb to testify appears in William Langland’s Piers Plowman in 1393 (the C text):
Meny prouerbis ich myghte haue of meny holy seyntes, To testifie for treuthe þe tale þat ich shewe.
(Many proverbs I might have of many holy saints, To testify for truth the tale that I tell.
The word testicle begins to appear in English medical texts in the early 15th century. From a translation of John Arderne’s Treatises of Fistula from c.1425:
His testicules war bolned out of mesure.
(His testicles were swollen out of measure.)
Folklore has it that ancient Romans would hold their testes while swearing oaths, hence the verb to testify. This is not true. The Romans did not swear oaths on their private parts.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton