Skip to main content
Select Source:

oath

oath, vocal affirmation of the truth of one's statements, generally made by appealing to a deity. From the earliest days of human history, calling upon the gods of a community to witness the truth of a statement or the solemnity of a promise has been commonly practiced. The force of the oath depends on the belief that supernatural powers will punish falsehood spoken under oath or the violation of a promise. The oath thus performs wide legal and quasi-legal functions. It was the basis of the medieval process of compurgation. It is still used in legal proceedings today: Thus, a jury is sworn in, and a witness takes an oath before testifying. In modern times, the force of the oath is strengthened by punishment for perjury. Difficulties have arisen in cases of atheists or of persons with religious scruples against oath-taking (e.g., Quakers), but statutes have now generally been modified so that a witness may affirm his intention to tell the truth without appealing to a deity. The main classes of oaths are the assertory oath, which concerns past or present facts, and the promissory oath, which refers to future conduct (such as that taken by an alien upon naturalization or by a high government official on assuming office). In the 1950s, fear of Communist subversion led many governmental and educational institutions to institute loyalty oaths, which required employees to swear to their non-membership in the Communist party or other presumptively subversive organizations. In the 1960s these loyalty oath requirements were invalidated by the Supreme Court.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oath." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oath." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oath

"oath." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oath

Oath

OATH

Any type of attestation by which an individual signifies that he or she is bound in conscience to perform a particular act truthfully and faithfully; a solemn declaration of truth or obligation.

An individual's appeal to God to witness the truth of what he or she is saying or a pledge to do something enforced by the individual's responsibility to answer to God.

Similarly an affirmation is a solemn and formal declaration that a statement is true; however, an affirmation includes no reference to God so it can be made by someone who does not believe in God or by an individual who has conscientious objections against swearing to God. Provisions in state statutes or constitutions ordinarily allow affirmations to be made as alternatives to oaths.

In order for an oath to be legally effective, it must be administered by a public official. The law creating each public office and describing the duties of the official ordinarily indicates who is authorized to administer the oath of office. A spoken oath is generally sufficient; however, a written and signed oath can be required by law.

The most famous oath prescribed by law in the United States is the oath repeated by the president-elect upon taking the office of the presidency.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Oath." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Oath." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oath

"Oath." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oath

oath

oath / ō[unvoicedth]/ • n. (pl. oaths / ō[unvoicedth]s; ō[voicedth]z/ ) 1. a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one's future action or behavior: they took an oath of allegiance to the king. ∎  a sworn declaration that one will tell the truth, esp. in a court of law. 2. a profane or offensive expression used to express anger or other strong emotions. PHRASES: under oath having sworn to tell the truth, esp. in a court of law.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oath." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oath." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oath-0

"oath." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oath-0

oath

oath Promise or pledge, especially a solemn one involving an appeal to God to witness the truth of the pledge. In a corporal oath, usually taken by a person before giving evidence in a court of law, a witness swears to the truth of a statement. Giving false evidence under oath is perjury.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oath." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oath." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oath

"oath." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oath

oath

oath solemn appeal to God as a witness OE.; trivial use of sacred names XII. OE. āð = OS. ēth (Du. eed), (O)HG. eid, ON. eiðr, Goth. aiþs :- Gmc. *aiþaz; cf. OIr. ōeth.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oath." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oath." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oath-1

"oath." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oath-1

oath

oathboth, growth, loath, oath, quoth, sloth, Thoth, troth •outgrowth • upgrowth •undergrowth

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oath." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oath." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oath

"oath." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oath