Friday, September 3, 2010


Today's fun fact is brought to you by the 34th issue of Cabinet Magazine, "A quarterly of art and culture".

The English word test comes from the Latin word testis, which means "witness". Makes sense, right? If you're taking a test, you're a witness to your knowledge.

Well, what about the word "testicle"? It also comes from testis, which happens to be the singular form of testes. So what's the relationship between witnesses and testes? Funny enough, throughout the centuries, witnesses of oaths in many cultures got pretty familiar with each others' testicles. It was common to grasp another man's genitalia while swearing an oath, making a promise, or giving testimony (see what I did there?) in court. The swearer of the oath was effectively saying "you can cut off my balls if I'm lying". Jake, who let me borrow this magazine after using it for his art class, suggested that this was also symbolic of cursing or punishing future generations for the lies of the speaker.

This happens numerous times in the Bible. In Genesis, a servant places his hand "under the thigh" of his master, Abraham, to swear an oath. Later in the same book, Joseph is also said to place his hand under Jacob's "thigh".

"When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, 'If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt,'"
- Genesis 47:29, NIV
Anyway, I thought this was pretty exciting. Er...interesting. And I wanted to share. Because I knew you all would love to learn about testicles etymology today!


  1. And now we can all "witness" "testes" on Chatroulette! ;D

    Thanks Terra! <3

  2. Awesome! Now you just have to round out the discussion with the etymological origins of "penes..." It's the best pluralization ever!

    I actually learned about the Biblical tradition of testis-grabbing from a high school Bible class like 5 or 6 years ago... our teacher was minutes away from making us "form a covenant" in that manner with our classmates before someone threatened him with sexual harassment. But it was still a very interesting topic!

  3. All right, I got a shout out! I want to subscribe to this magazine for more stories about ... penes. :)

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