Friday, 22 January 2010

sitar and testicle

sitar is borrowed from Hindi-Urdu, from Persian ستار sitār, composed of sih "three" and tār "string". sih is from Proto-Indo-European *trei- "three". I'd always assumed that sitar was related to guitar and zither in some way; apparently not.

In Italic, *trei- combined with *steh₂- "stand" to form the compound *tri-stis or *trito-stis meaning "third person standing by", that is, "witness". This became Latin testis "witness". This gives us words like testimony, testify, contest, and maybe also testicle, from Latin testiculus, a diminutive of testis. How the meaning of Latin testis changed from "witness" to "male reproductive gland" is unclear. One hypothesis is that Romans would put one hand over their testicles when giving testimony, so the word came to be associated with the body part. Skeat says the testis was "probably considered as a witness of manhood". However Walde considers a connection between testis "witness" and testis "testicle" unlikely.

4 comments :

Glen Gordon said...

"One hypothesis is that Romans would put one hand over their testicles when giving testimony, [...]"

That's certainly an improvement over using the Bible. Lol!

Saif said...

I'd also thought there was a kythera/gitarra connection, reflecting the saptem/centum divide

goofy said...

Saif: Guitar and zither are related, but I don't think it's a satem-centum thing. Greek κιθαρα was borrowed as Spanish guitarra. Zither also comes from the Greek word, possibly thru German.

But sitar is not related to guitar and zither, even tho it looks like it is.

CIngram said...

The OED discounts the 'pledging testicle when giving evidence' idea, but seems to like the 'witness of manhood' thing.