Larry's Pretty Good Word of the Day (prettygoodword) wrote in 1word1day,
Larry's Pretty Good Word of the Day
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Thursday word: niddering

niddering (NID-uhr-ing) - n., a coward, a wretch. adj., cowardly.


This is a misspelling, or rather misprinting, that propagated and became the "correct" spelling, and thereby hangs a tale. It seems that in 1596, a typesetter of the works of historian Williams of Malmesbury misread the archaic ð of niðing (pronounced nithing) as d plus a mark indicating an e, and rendered it as nidering -- which was propagated as niddering following standard English ideas of orthography. Niðing itself goes back to Old English, borrowed from Old Norse niðingr, a legal term for someone who (to quote the OED) "has committed a crime so heinous that no possible compensation may be made for it" -- which has nothing to do with nothing, but rather nið, meaning scorn. It is not a common word today outside of historical novels, and owes its existence there entirely from Sir Walter Scott's use of it in Ivanhoe:

"I require of thee, as a man of thy word, on pain of being held faithless, man-sworn, and 'niddering', to forgive and receive to thy paternal affection the good knight, Wilfred of Ivanhoe."

---L.
Tags: adjective, english, n, norse, noun
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