In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

The Pros and Cons of Testing

"Hello there. We've been waiting for you. It's time to play Truth or Consequences." These words once greeted listeners to one of America's favorite radio game shows.

Truth or Consequences is now part of our national leitmotif. We have dating service tests for compatibility; psychological testing for employment; SATs to measure academic achievement; medical testing for AIDS and drugs; government testing for loyalty; and not too far down the road — genetic screening.

There are any different ways you can put things to the test. During the Middle Ages, alchemists placed base metals in a small vessel called a teste in order to assay them — to see whether they had successfully transformed them into gold.

Teste derives from the Latin testa "brick," the piece of dried earth composing those pots from tersa, "dry ground," which also gave us terra, "earth," as in terra firma.

Is testing always on firm ground? It's best you use your head in these matters. The French tête shares the same root as test, the shape of the pot being akin to the skull.

Testiness also comes from the head. So if all this testing makes you testy, you have every right to be headstrong about it.