The California Water Code makes numerous reference to “protestants”. Secularists need not fear. The reference isn’t to adherents of the reformation theologies of Martin Luther, John Calvin or Huldrych Zwingli. These are small “p” protestants, that is persons who are pursuing a protest. Section 1333, for example, provides “The protestant and the applicant shall make a good faith effort to resolve the protest . . .”.
Habitual readers of this space will not be surprised to learn that “protestant” is derived from two Latin words – the preposition pro meaning before and the verb testare meaning to bear witness. The words “protest”, “testify” and “testament” are also derived from testare. The word “protestant” is an example of one type of homograph known as a heteronym, i.e., a word with two pronunciations and two meanings. When referring to a species of Christian, emphasis falls on the first syllable and the word is pronounced prot’ is tənt. When referring to a protestor, emphasis shifts to the second syllable and the word is pronounced prə tes’ tent. Heteronyms are surprisingly common in legal usage, e.g., “abuse”, “address”, “does”, and “present”.
This post was inspired by this recent blog by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh who found protestants in Texas: “Protestants did not like the sexual marketing and theme of the business”.