Finally, an etymology that isn't contested! Except it is: the word contest didn't become a noun until the 1640s. Before that, it had much more militaristic meaning, often in reference to armies clashing rather than frivolous competitions. The verb came from French contester, which meant "to dispute". and that came from the Latin phrase contestari litem, which had the rather interesting definition of "call to witness". This is because, in the days of Rome, the first step to have a legal one-on-one fight was to get somebody to act as a witness to the battle. Contestari is composed of two parts: the prefix con- (alternatively, com-, meaning "with") and the root testis, meaning "witness" (and, as we've seen with testify, surprisingly connected to the word testicle). Con- comes from Proto-Indo-European kon, "next to", and testis comes from Proto-Indo-European thrisths, meaning "third party" (as in witnesses are third parties). Cool stuff!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.