May 16 • 4M


Putting on "heirs"

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Knowing cognates can strengthen your vocabulary skills.
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testament — a will or legal disposition of one’s personal property

testamento — the Spanish cognate of the same definition

In English, we more often use the word “will” instead of “testament,” but if you know “testament” as its synonym, then it’s easy to learn the Spanish word for “will” which is “testamento.” In English, the word “testament” has gained more of a religious association, but the word began in Latin with testis which meant “witness.”

When you make a covenant, or testament, with God or make a will, or testament, you are bearing witness to your promises or desires. In English, we commonly use the verb “testify” in court or legal proceedings. Its Spanish cognate is “testificar.”

Going back to the word “witness,” its Spanish translation is “testigo.” Clearly, these are NOT cognates, but you can see how similar the word “testigo” is to “testify.” That’s because they are related and have that common Latin ancestor.

“Witness” has survived from Old English almost completely intact, which is a rarity. In Old English, it was spelled with only one “s” — witnes.

A “testimonial” is a written declaration of recommendation, and “testimony” is a statement under oath giving proof or evidence of something. In Spanish, those have cognates of “testimonial” and “testimonio.”

Now, if you make a will, or a testament, you are a “testator.” In Spanish, you would be a “testador” if you are a male and a “testadora” if you are a female. Interestingly, there is a feminine word for a “testator” in English, too. It’s “testatrix.”

Perhaps you’ve been wondering about that Latin root word of testis. Maybe you’ve been thinking, yet hating to admit you’ve been thinking it, that a “testis” in English is just another word for a “testicle,” so you may be wondering if there is a connection.

Yes, in fact, there is. “Testis” and “testicle” are cousins of “testament,” “testify,” etc. I’ve read conflicting accounts as to why the word began being used for part of the male anatomy, but many say that it’s because a “testis” essentially bears witness to a male’s virility.

I cannot “attest” to the complete validity of that, though. Yes, “attest” is also related. It has a Spanish cognate in “atestiguar,” in which you may see that the word for “witness” — “testigo” — is in that infinitive.

Going even further back, these words all originate in the Latin, and Spanish, word for “three” which is “tres.” The “witness” who would give “testimony” was an impartial “third” party.

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Tammy Marshall

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