AskDefine | Define oath

Dictionary Definition



1 profane or obscene expression usually of surprise or anger; "expletives were deleted" [syn: curse, curse word, expletive, swearing, swearword, cuss]
2 a commitment to tell the truth (especially in a court of law); to lie under oath is to become subject to prosecution for perjury [syn: swearing]
3 a solemn promise, usually invoking a divine witness, regarding your future acts or behavior; "they took an oath of allegience"

User Contributed Dictionary



Old English āþ



  1. A solemn pledge or promise to a god, king or another person, to attest to the truth of a statement or contract
    • 1924, Aristotle, Metaphysics, Translated by W. D. Ross. Nashotah, Wisconsin, USA: The Classical Library, 2001. Available at: . Book 1, Part 3.
      for they made Ocean and Tethys the parents of creation, and described the oath of the gods as being by water,
  2. the affirmed statement or promise accepted as equivalent to an oath
  3. A light or insulting use of a solemn pledge or promise to a god, king or another person, to attest to the truth of a statement or contract the name of a deity in a profanity, as in swearing oaths
  4. a curse
  5. An affirmation of the truth of a statement.

Derived terms

Related terms


solemn pledge
affirmed statement
  • Bosnian: psovka
  • Finnish: kirosana
  • German: Fluch
  • Italian: bestemmia
  • Kurdish: dijûn, xeber, sixêf
  • Russian: проклятие
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: псовка
    Roman: psovka
  • Swedish: ed , svordom
See curse


  1. (archaic) To pledge.
  2. Shouting out. (as in 'oathing obsenities')


to pledge
  • Italian: giurare
  • Kurdish: sond xwarin
shouting out


External links


1-5. Oxford-Paravia Concise - Dizionario Inglese-Italiano e Italiano-Inglese. Turin: Paravia, 2003. Edited in collaboration with Oxford University Press. ISBN 8839551107.

Extensive Definition

An oath (from Anglo-Saxon āð, also called plight) is either a promise or a statement of fact calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually a god, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath.
A person taking an oath indicates this in a number of ways. The most usual is the explicit "I swear," but any statement or promise that includes "with * as my witness" or "so help me *," with '*' being something or someone the oath-taker holds sacred, is an oath. Many people take an oath by holding in their hand or placing over their head a book of scripture or a sacred object, thus indicating the sacred witness through their action: such an oath is called corporal. However, the chief purpose of such an act is for ceremony or solemnity, and the act does not of itself make an oath.
There is confusion between oaths and other statements or promises. The current Olympic Oath, for instance, is really a pledge and not properly an oath since there is only a "promise" and no appeal to a sacred witness. Oaths are also confused with vows, but really a vow is a special kind of oath.
In law, oaths are made by a witness to a court of law before giving testimony and usually by a newly-appointed government officer to the people of a state before taking office. In both of those cases, though, an affirmation can be usually substituted. A written statement, if the author swears the statement is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is called an affidavit. The oath given to support an affidavit is frequently administered by a notary public who will memorialize the giving of the oath by affixing her or his seal to the document. Breaking an oath (or affirmation) is perjury.

Greco-Roman tradition

In the Greco-Roman Tradition, oaths were sworn upon Iuppiter Lapis or the Jupiter Stone located in the Temple of Jupiter, Capitoline Hill. Iuppiter Lapis was held in the Greco-Roman Tradition to be an Oath Stone, an aspect of Jupiter is his role as divine law-maker responsible for order and used principally for the investiture of the oathtaking of office.
Bailey (1907) states:
We have, for instance, the sacred stone (silex) which was preserved in the temple of Iuppiter on the Capitol, and was brought out to play a prominent part in the ceremony of treaty-making. The fetial, who on that occasion represented the Roman people, at the solemn moment of the oath-taking, struck the sacrificial pig with the silex, saying as he did so, 'Do thou, Diespiter, strike the Roman people as I strike this pig here to-day, and strike them the more, as thou art greater and stronger.' Here no doubt the underlying notion is not merely symbolical, but in origin the stone is itself the god, an idea which later religion expressed in the cult-title specially used in this connection, Iuppiter Lapis.
Walter Burkert has shown that since Lycurgus of Athens (d. 324 BC), who held that "it is the oath which holds democracy together", religion, morality and political organization had been linked by the oath, and the oath and its prerequisite altar had become the basis of both
civil and criminal, as well as international law.

Judeo-Christian tradition

The concept of oaths is deeply rooted within the Judeo-Christian Tradition. It is found in Genesis 8:21, when God swears that he will "never again curse the ground because of man and never again smite every living thing." This repetition of the term never again is explained by Rashi, the preeminent biblical commentator, as serving as an oath, citing the Talmud for this ruling.
The first personage in the biblical tradition to take an oath is held to be Eliezer, the chief servant of Abraham, when the latter requested of the former that he not take a wife for his son Issac from the daughters of Canaan, but rather from among Abraham's own family. In the Judeo-Christian Tradition, this is held as the origination of the concept that it is required to hold a sacred object in one's hand when taking an oath. Because circumcision was the first commandment Abraham performed and was therefore so dear to him on both a spiritual as well as a personal level, Abraham had Eliezer take hold of his genitals.

Refusal to swear oaths

As late as 1880, Charles Bradlaugh was denied a seat in parliament since because of his professed atheism he was judged unable to swear the Oath of Allegiance in spite of his proposal to swear the oath as a "matter of form".
Various religious groups have objected to the taking of oaths, most notably the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Mennonites. This is principally based on Bible verse |Matthew|5:34-37, the Antithesis of the Law. Here, Christ is written to say "I say to you: 'Swear not at all'". The Apostle James stated in Bible verse |James|5:12, "Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned."
Not all Christians follow this reading, because of the statements in the Old Testament. Jews also avoid taking oaths, as even making an unintentionally false oath would violate a Biblical commandment in Bible verse |Leviticus|19:12.
Opposition to oath-taking caused many problems for these groups throughout their history. Quakers were frequently imprisoned because of their refusal to swear loyalty oaths. Testifying in court was also difficult; George Fox, Quakers' founder, famously challenged a judge who had asked him to swear, saying that he would do so once the judge could point to any Bible passage where Jesus or his apostles took oaths. (The judge could not, but this did not allow Fox to escape punishment.) Legal reforms from the 18th century onwards mean that everyone in the United Kingdom now has the right to make a solemn affirmation instead of an oath. The United States has permitted affirmations since it was founded; it is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Only two US Presidents, Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, have chosen to affirm rather than swear at their inaugurations.

Germanic tradition

Germanic warrior culture was significantly based on oaths of fealty, directly continued into medieval notions of chivalry.
A prose passage inserted in the eddic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar relates: Hedin was coming home alone from the forest one Yule-eve, and found a troll-woman; she rode on a wolf, and had snakes in place of a bridle. She asked Hedin for his company. "Nay," said he. She said, "Thou shalt pay for this at the bragarfull." That evening the great vows were taken; the sacred boar was brought in, the men laid their hands thereon, and took their vows at the bragarfull. Hedin vowed that he would have Sváva, Eylimi's daughter, the beloved of his brother Helgi; then such great grief seized him that he went forth on wild paths southward over the land, and found Helgi, his brother. Such Norse traditions are directly parallel to the "bird oaths" of late medieval France, such as the voeux du faisan (oath on the pheasant) or the (fictional) voeux du paon (oath on the peacock).

Other meanings

The word "oath" is often used to mean any angry expression which includes religious or other strong language used as an expletive.



Bailey, Cyril (1907). The Religion of Ancient Rome. London, UK: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd. Source: (Accessed: August 21, 2007)

See also

External links

oath in Czech: Přísaha
oath in German: Eid
oath in Spanish: Juramento
oath in French: Serment
oath in Hebrew: שבועה
oath in Dutch: Eed
oath in Polish: Przysięga
oath in Portuguese: Juramento
oath in Russian: Присяга
oath in Serbian: Заклетва
oath in Finnish: Vala
oath in Swedish: Ed (juridisk betydelse)
oath in Yiddish: שבועה

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bible oath, assurance, avouch, avouchment, avow, avowal, curse, cuss, cuss word, dirty name, dirty word, dysphemism, epithet, expletive, extrajudicial oath, faith, foul invective, guarantee, guaranty, imprecation, ironclad oath, judicial oath, loyalty oath, malediction, naughty word, no-no, oath of allegiance, oath of office, obscenity, official oath, parole, pledge, plight, profane oath, profanity, promise, solemn declaration, solemn oath, swear, swearword, sworn statement, test oath, troth, vow, warrant, warranty, word, word of honor
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1