- word-forming element denoting action, quality, or state, attached to an adjective or past participle to form an abstract noun, from Old English -nes(s), from Proto-Germanic *in-assu- (cognates: Old Saxon -nissi, Middle Dutch -nisse, Dutch -nis, Old High German -nissa, German -nis, Gothic -inassus), from *-in-, noun stem, + *-assu-, abstract noun suffix, probably from the same root as Latin -tudo (see -tude).
- as in beatnik, etc., suffix used in word formation from c. 1945, from Yiddish -nik (as in nudnik "a bore"), from Russian -nik, common personal suffix meaning "person or thing associated with or involved in" (compare nudnik; kolkhoznik "member of a kolkhoz"). Rocketed to popularity with sputnik (q.v.).
- in nickname, newt, and British dialectal naunt, the -n- belongs to a preceding indefinite article an or possessive pronoun mine.
Other examples of this from Middle English manuscripts include a neilond ("an island," early 13c.), a narawe ("an arrow," c. 1400), a nox ("an ox," c. 1400), a noke ("an oak," early 15c.), a nappyle ("an apple," early 15c.), a negge ("an egg," 15c.). In 16c., an idiot sometimes became a nidiot, which, with still-common casual pronunciation, became nidget, which, alas, has not survived.
The process also worked in surnames, from oblique cases of Old English at "by, near," as in Nock/Nokes/Noaks from atten Oke "by the oak;" Nye from atten ye "near the lowland;" and see Nashville.
But it is more common for an English word to lose an -n- to a preceding a: apron, auger, adder, umpire, humble pie, etc. The mathematical use of n for "an indefinite number" is first recorded 1852, in to the nth power.
- abbreviation of Latin nota bene "note well."
- abbreviation of no good, attested from 1838; variant n.b.g. for no bloody good is first recorded 1903.
- abbreviation of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, first attested 1910. Organization founded Feb. 12, 1909, as National Negro Committee.
- masc. proper name, biblical name of Aramean general cured of leprosy by Elisha, from Hebrew Na'aman, literally "pleasantness," from stem of na'em "was pleasant or lovely." Compare Naomi.
- nab (v.)
- "to catch (someone)," 1680s, probably a variant of dialectal nap "to seize, catch, lay hold of" (1670s, now surviving only in kidnap), which possibly is from Scandinavian (compare Norwegian nappe, Swedish nappa "to catch, snatch;" Danish nappe "to pinch, pull"); reinforced by Middle English napand "grasping, greedy." Related: Nabbed; nabbing. Nabbing-cull was old slang for "constable," and Farmer & Henley has "TO NAB THE STIFLES = to be hanged."
- nabob (n.)
- 1610s, "deputy governor in Mogul Empire," Anglo-Indian, from Hindi nabab, from Arabic nuwwab, honorific plural of na'ib "viceroy, deputy," from base n-w-b "to take someone's place." Also used of Europeans who came home from India having made a fortune there, hence "very rich man" (1764).
- nacelle (n.)
- late 15c., "small boat," from Old French nacele "little boat, bark, skiff" (12c., Modern French nacelle), from Vulgar Latin *naucella, from Late Latin navicella "a little ship," diminutive of navis "ship" (see naval). Meaning "gondola of an airship" is from 1901; extended to "cockpit of an aircraft" by 1914; later transferred to other similar housings and structures.
- nacho (n.)
- according to "The Dallas Morning News" [Oct. 22, 1995] and other sources, named for restaurant cook Ignacio Anaya, who invented the dish in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras in 1943.
- nachos (n.)
- see nacho.
- nacre (n.)
- 1590s, "type of shellfish that yields mother-of-pearl," from Middle French nacre (14c.), from Italian naccaro (now nacchera), possibly from Arabic naqur "hunting horn" (from nakara "to hollow out"), in reference to the shape of the mollusk shell. Meaning "mother-of-pearl" is from 1718.
- nacreous (adj.)
- "resembling nacre," 1807, from nacre + -ous.
- nad (n.)
- also nads, 1980s, student slang shortening of gonad.
- nada (n.)
- "nothing," 1933, slang, introduced by Hemingway, from Spanish nada "nothing," from Latin (res) nata "small, insignificant thing," literally "(thing) born" (see natal).
- Naderism (n.)
- 1969, in reference to the methods of U.S. lawyer and consumer advocate Ralph Nader (b.1934) + -ism.
- nadir (n.)
- late 14c., in astronomical sense, from Medieval Latin nadir, from Arabic nazir "opposite to," in nazir as-samt, literally "opposite direction," from nazir "opposite" + as-samt "road, path" (see zenith). Transferred sense of "lowest point (of anything)" is first recorded 1793.
- northern England and Scottish variant of no.
- naeve (n.)
- "spot, blemish," 1610s, from Latin naevus "mole, birthmark, wart," from *gnaevus "birthmark," literally "born in."
- naff (v.)
- British slang word with varied uses, not all certainly connected; see Partridge, who lists three noun uses: 1. "female pudenda" (c. 1845), which might be back-slang from fan, shortening of fanny (in the British sense); 2. "nothing," in prostitutes' slang from c. 1940; 3. a euphemism for fuck (v.) in oaths, imprecations, expletives (as in naff off), 1959, "making it slightly less obvious than eff" [Partridge]; and an adjective naff "vulgar, common, despicable," said to have been used in 1960s British gay slang for "unlovely" and thence adopted into the slangs of the theater and the armed forces.
- acronym for North American Free Trade Agreement, negotiated from 1991, signed Dec. 17, 1992, implemented 1994.
- nag (v.)
- "annoy by scolding," 1828, originally a dialectal word meaning "to gnaw" (1825), probably ultimately from a Scandinavian source (compare Old Norse gnaga "to complain," literally "to bite, gnaw," dialectal Swedish and Norwegian nagga "to gnaw"), from Proto-Germanic *gnagan, related to Old English gnagan "to gnaw" (see gnaw). Related: Nagged; nagger; nagging.
- nag (n.)
- "old horse," c. 1400, nagge "small riding horse," of unknown origin, perhaps related to Dutch negge, neg (but these are more recent than the English word), perhaps related in either case to imitative neigh. Term of abuse is a transferred sense, first recorded 1590s.
- naga (n.)
- in Hindu mythology, race of serpent demons, offspring of Kaduru, guardians of the under-regions; 1785, from Sanskrit naga "serpent, snake," of unknown origin.
- Japanese city, named for its situation, from naga "long" + saki "headland, promontory."
- 1920, reflecting a drawn-out American English pronunciation of no.
- 1822, from Spanish, from Nahuatl (Aztecan) Nahuatl, the people's name, "something that makes an agreeable sound; someone who speaks well or speaks one's own language." As a language name, usually in the compound form nahuatlahotol-li.
- naiad (n.)
- "water nymph," c. 1600, from Latin Nais, Naias (genitive naiadis), from Greek Naias (plural Naiades) "river nymph," from naiein "to flow," from PIE *naw-yo-, suffixed form of root *(s)nau- "to swim, flow, let flow" (see nutriment). Dryden used the Latin singular form Nais, and the plural Naiades is attested in English from late 14c.
- naif (adj.)
- 1590s, from French naïf, literally "naive" (see naive). As a noun, first attested 1893, from French, where Old French naif also meant "native inhabitant; simpleton, natural fool."
- nail (n.)
- Old English negel "metal pin," nægl "fingernail (handnægl), toenail," from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (cognates: Old Norse nagl "fingernail," nagli "metal nail;" Old Saxon and Old High German nagel, Old Frisian neil, Middle Dutch naghel, Dutch nagel, German Nagel "fingernail, small metal spike"), from PIE root *(o)nogh "nail" (cognates: Greek onyx "claw, fingernail;" Latin unguis "nail, claw;" Old Church Slavonic noga "foot," noguti "nail, claw;" Lithuanian naga "hoof," nagutis "fingernail;" Old Irish ingen, Old Welsh eguin "nail, claw").
The "fingernail" sense seems to be the original one. Nail polish attested from 1891. To bite one's nails as a sign of anxiety is attested from 1570s. Nail-biting is from 1805. Hard as nails is from 1828. To hit the nail on the head "say or do just the right thing" is first recorded 1520s. Phrase on the nail "on the spot, exactly" is from 1590s, of obscure origin; OED says it is not even certain it belongs to this sense of nail.
- nail (v.)
- Old English næglian "to fasten with nails," from Proto-Germanic *ganaglijan (cognates: Old Saxon neglian, Old Norse negla, Old High German negilen, German nageln, Gothic ganagljan "to nail"), from the root of nail (n.). Related: Nailed; nailing. Meaning "to catch, seize" is first recorded 1766, probably from earlier sense "to keep fixed in a certain position" (1610s). Meaning "to succeed in hitting" is from 1886. To nail down "to fix down with nails" is from 1660s.
- nailery (n.)
- "workshop where nails are made," 1798, from nail (n.) + -ery.
- naissance (n.)
- "birth, origin," late 15c., from Middle French naissance "birth, parentage, place of origin" (12c.), present participle of naître, from Gallo-Roman *nascere, from Latin nasci "be born" (see genus).
- naissant (adj.)
- 1570s, from French naissant, present participle of naître (see naissance).
- naive (adj.)
- 1650s, "natural, simple, artless," from French naïve, fem. of naïf, from Old French naif "naive, natural, genuine; just born; foolish, innocent; unspoiled, unworked" (13c.), from Latin nativus "not artificial," also "native, rustic," literally "born, innate, natural" (see native (adj.)). Related: Naively.
- naivete (n.)
- 1670s, from French naïveté, from Old French naiveté "genuineness, authenticity," literally "native disposition" (see naive). Englished form naivety is attested from 1708.
- nake (v.)
- "to make naked," early 14c., from naked, perhaps with misapprehension of the -d as a past tense suffix. Marked as "Obs[olete] exc[ept] Sc[ottish]" in OED. Earlier was naken "to strip naked" (mid-13c.); a later generation coined nakedize (1858).
- naked (adj.)
- Old English nacod "nude, bare; empty," also "not fully clothed," from Proto-Germanic *nakwadaz (cognates: Old Frisian nakad, Middle Dutch naket, Dutch naakt, Old High German nackot, German nackt, Old Norse nökkviðr, Old Swedish nakuþer, Gothic naqaþs "naked"), from PIE root *nogw- "naked" (cognates: Sanskrit nagna, Hittite nekumant-, Old Persian *nagna-, Greek gymnos, Latin nudus, Lithuanian nuogas, Old Church Slavonic nagu-, Russian nagoi, Old Irish nocht, Welsh noeth "bare, naked"). Related: Nakedly; nakedness. Applied to qualities, actions, etc., from late 14c. (first in "The Cloud of Unknowing"); phrase naked truth is from 1585, in Alexander Montgomerie's "The Cherry and the Slae":
Which thou must (though it grieve thee) grant
Phrase naked as a jaybird (1943) was earlier naked as a robin (1879, in a Shropshire context); the earliest known comparative based on it was naked as a needle (late 14c.). Naked eye is from 1660s, unnecessary in the world before telescopes and microscopes.
I trumped never a man.
But truely told the naked trueth,
To men that meld with mee,
For neither rigour, nor for rueth,
But onely loath to lie.
- Nam (n.)
- colloquial shortening of Vietnam, 1969, originally among U.S. troops sent there.
- namaste (n.)
- "salutatory gesture," 1948, from Hindi, from Sanskrit namas "bowing" + te, dative of tuam "you" (singular). Used as a word of greeting from 1967.
- namby-pamby (adj.)
- "weakly sentimental, insipidly pretty," 1745, from satiric nickname of English poet Ambrose Philips (1674-1749) mocking his sentimental pastorals addressed to infant members of the nobility. Used first in 1726 in a farce credited to Carey. Related: Namby-pambical.
- name (n.)
- Old English nama, noma "name, reputation," from Proto-Germanic *namon (cognates: Old Saxon namo, Old Frisian nama, Old High German namo, German Name, Middle Dutch name, Dutch naam, Old Norse nafn, Gothic namo "name"), from PIE *nomn- (cognates: Sanskrit nama; Avestan nama; Greek onoma, onyma; Latin nomen; Old Church Slavonic ime, genitive imene; Russian imya; Old Irish ainm; Old Welsh anu "name").
Meaning "famous person" is from 1610s. Meaning "one's reputation" is from c. 1300. As a modifier meaning "well-known," first attested 1938. Name brand is from 1944; name-calling attested from 1846; name-dropper first recorded 1947. name-tag is from 1903; name-child attested from 1845. The name of the game "the essential thing or quality" is from 1966; to have one's name in lights "be a famous performer" is from 1929.
He who once a good name gets,
May piss a bed, and say he sweats.
["Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence," London, 1811]
- name (v.)
- Old English namian "to name, call; nominate, appoint," from source of name (n.). Related: Named; naming.
- nameless (adj.)
- early 14c., "undistinguished," from name (n.) + -less. Meaning "having no name" is early 15c.; that of "too abominable to be named" is from 1610s. Similar formation in Dutch naamloos, German namenlos. Related: Namelessly; namelessness.
- namely (adv.)
- "particularly, especially" (i.e. "by name"), late 12c., from name (n.) + -ly (2).
- nameplate (n.)
- 1882, from name (n.) + plate (n.).
- namesake (n.)
- "person named for the sake of someone," 1640s, probably originally (for the) name's sake.
- fem. proper name, usually a familiar form of Ann before the 20c. rise in popularity of Nancy. From c. 1700 as a characteristic name for a serving maid. As short for nanny, etc., from 1940.
- child's word for "grandmother" or, sometimes, "nurse," first recorded c. 1844 (see nanny).