Thursday, January 29, 2015


This post celebrates a word all two-year-olds appreciate. Additionally, the good folks who wrote the OED appreciated it enough to give it a nearly two-page entry. No came to English as early as the 1200s through Old English from the Proto-Indo European word ne, meaning no, not, never. And ne is the grandmother of oh-so-many modern words:

Never, which started out as næfre, meaning not ever, came to the language even before no, appearing in the first Anglo Saxon tale to be written down in that barbaric tongue they called Anglish in the epic poem Beowulf, some time before 1000.

Nothing, which came to English as an adverb in 1200, added noun to its quiver in 1600, & added adjective in 1961.

The word not came from its earlier form, naught, arriving in English in the 1200s. Interestingly, naught came from an even earlier term no whit, meaning no thing.

The combining form non- showed up in the 1300s, giving us non sequitur, nonviolence, non-fiction, non-conformist, nonfat milk, & any number of other non-s.

Null, which came through Latin & Middle French, arriving in English in the 1560s and mostly meaning nothing, zero, void, is assigned eight different meanings in the OED – a delicious bit of irony.

Nil came through Latin & arrived in English in 1833,

Naughty showed up in the 1300s, meaning having nothing. By the 1520s naughty had picked up its second meaning, wicked, evil, or morally wrong. By the 1630s its third meaning applied to misbehaving children, & by 1869 its fourth meaning, sexually promiscuous, jumped on board. It occurs to me the etymology of naughty provides a fascinating sociological study.

Any nay-saying, followers? Any thoughts on NO?

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Word Detective, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED.


  1. I wonder if prehistoric 2-yr olds made that same "ne" sound? It's so universal with toddlers of all races, I imagine it's a necessary part of becoming a grown up human.

  2. I like that "not ever" evolved into "never." Makes perfect sense.

  3. Hey VIckie & Anne,
    I have vague memories of an old campfire skit that included the line "Oh no, never never," but for some reason we'd pronounce the last bit nayver nayver -- maybe we were channeling from a century far, far away! Anne - I checked, fully expecting most languages to have some "no" like sound meaning no. I was dead wrong. They're all over the map. Life's funny.