Heard on The Jud es: "bartend(e)ress"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Jan 27 07:08:36 UTC 2009

Laurence Horn wrote:
> ...
> there are these nice stories--probably just that--about
> witnesses (males only, females need not apply) clutching their
> genitalia (instead of crossing their hearts and hoping to die) to
> commit themselves to truthful testimony.  As far as how a legal term
> came to have a physiological meaning, one natural assumption is that
> "testis" in the latter sense developed as a euphemism for the "real"
> Latin word for the relevant body part--but what would that have been?
> Note that "ball" is a similar kind of euphemistic replacement, a
> transfer from a general, non-sexual domain, but again, there's no
> term that isn't a borrowing (testicle) or a conventionalized
> euphemism (ball) that would constitute the "real" and presumably
> taboo term, the way "fuck", "ass/arse", "cunt", etc. are in their
> respective domains.  Same holds for "penis", of course.  Someone must
> have written on this, but I don't know who.
I have C. D. Buck's IE synonym dictionary here, 60 years old but current
enough in the current context I guess. His preferred speculation seems
to be that "testis" = "witness" was applied to the anatomic part in
imitation of the Greek association of "parastatai" = "testicles" and
"parastates" = "supporter"/"defender" (legal). I suppose the basic idea
is "one who stands beside", i.e. "one of a pair". Cf. Greek "didymoi" =
"twins", also = "testicles", as reflected (e.g.) in modern
English/Latin/whatever "epididymis" (which names a structure contiguous
with the testis) or obsolete (I think) "didymitis" = "orchitis".

Buck gives also Latin "coleus", 'etym. dub.', the ancestor of well-known
Spanish "cojon[es]" etc. Maybe this is from "cul[l]eus" = "leather

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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