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I work at an animal shelter a few days a week and the other day one of the cats came back from the vet after he’d been neutered. I’m aware that isn’t interesting, but the discovery that the cat was a “cryptorchid” is. 

I know the term cryptorchid from horses, so I understood our poor little feline friend had a testicle that was hiding. Smart move. But I’ve also heard the words rig and ridgling being used when there is a wayward testis. Such an odd assortment of words that all mean the same thing.

Admittedly, castration and surrounding themes were not on my list of topic ideas, but when inspiration strikes, I roll with it. 


Cryptorchid, also known as monorchidism or cryptorchidism. This is a fancy way of saying that one or both of your colt’s testicles has failed to make an appearance, though retaining one is more common than retaining two. If only one has descended the other one is likely evading detection in the groin/general inguinal area or in the abdomen. 

This failure to emerge happens equally between the left and the right side. However, more often than not the left one can be found in the abdomen while the right is frequently located in the inguinal canal.  

This issue isn’t unique to horses, though they are more prone to it than any other domestic species affecting approximately 3-4 percent of colts.

Undescended testes do not produce fertile sperm but do produce testosterone and are more prone to tumours. Though it’s a more costly procedure than a regular gelding it’s a necessity if stamping out stallion tendencies is high on your list. 

Now, the curious name of cryptorchid comes from the Greek kryptos, which means “hidden” and this is also where our word crypt, as in the graveyard thing, comes from. 

The Greek word orchis, means “testicle” and if you are wondering if there is any correlation between a testicle and an orchid flower, there is. 

Apparently, orchids have testicular-shaped root tubers, some of which are twins. There was also a kind of olive called orchis due to its recognizable shape. I’m pleased someone put the kibosh on that. I mean honestly. An olive and a flower? Really? But I digress, reluctantly. 

The first recorded mention of orchids was in the book Inquiry into Plants, written by Theophrastus around 300 B.C., who was a student of Aristotle. But the name of the flower is all down to a Greek botanist who went by the name of Dioscorides. Dioscorides was the man who thought calling the flower an “orchid” based solely on the resemblance it held to 2/3 of his nether regions was a good plan. He made this clear to all in the 1st century. 


Rig & Ridgling

Now that we have that name sorted out, where do the terms rig and ridgling (or ridgeling) come from? They mean the same thing as the above-mentioned just differing names.

Ridgling or ridgeling if you fancy an “e” likely stems from the word ridge, which at some point between the 11th and 15th century was spelt rigge and meant the “back of a man or a beast”. This meaning fell out of favour sometime in the 17th century. 

Discovering where the words rig and ridgling came from was nice and easy for a change, however, I’m unsure what an undescended testicle has to do with the back of a man or a beast. Perhaps they thought the missing testis was somewhere up near the back and perhaps it was.

Why are horses gelded and cats neutered but both are castrated?

It’s unclear why we say we geld horses, neuter cats and castrate humans. When the job is done we’ve created geldings, gibs (that’s a neutered cat) and eunuchs. Why don’t we ever hear anyone say we should geld men, castrate cats and neuter horses? It seems wrong to say it that way and I suppose it will remain a mystery forever more. Either way, they’re all “fixed” and problems are mitißgated. 


It’s thought this word stems from several different languages such as Proto-Germanic and Old Norse, but to save time I will skip to Middle English where the word geld means “barren” in reference to women and in Old High German where galt means “a barren cow”. Not sure how we managed to turn the tables from the female side of things to the male, but we did.


The word neuter is Latin and the spelling has remained the same all these years. Though the meaning has changed. In the beginning, it meant “neither one nor the other”. In Latin ne means “not or no” while the root uter means “either”. 

It’s believed this word comes from the Greek oudeteros which means “neither or neuter”. In the 1300s neuter was used in grammar for words that were neither feminine nor masculine or for verbs that were neither active nor passive.

Moving along a few hundred years neuter was the word of choice when you decided not to take a side on an issue, and it later morphed into the word neutral. And finally, in the 1700s the word neuter was used in reference to animals and insects that were thought to be neither male nor female and were incapable of reproducing. 


This word has two meanings that end up feeding into each other. To castrate something or someone is to deprive them of vitality or effect. Also, it means to remove the testicles, which then deprives them of their vitality. It stems from the Latin word castrare which is to emasculate or to prune. I like the term prune. 

Castrare comes from the Latin word castrum which means “knife or an instrument that cuts”. This is probably why those great metal pincers that clamp down on the spermatic cord of a colt like a vice grip and make that horrid crunching sound are called emasculators. I can hear the noise now and it makes me wince.

Now we know

We have one cute little stray cat that goes by the name of Walnut, and no I’m not making that up, to thank for this enlightening post about testicles. 

Sources: ; ; ; ; ;

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