Friday, December 23, 2016

Strictly speaking, I'm not Naughty

Was Calvin and Hobbes the greatest comic strip ever?  It would be an interesting question to debate, but given the decline of newspapers in recent times I would say that it would at a minimum have a strong claim to being the last of the Great Comic Strips.

Calvin was a marvelous creation, conceived by genius.  

The issue of whether he was Naughty or Nice is indeed problematic, you would have to see the world from his perspective....something that not many could manage.

The above got me thinking about the meaning, not of Christmas, but of the word "Naughty".

I was wondering, and frankly hoping that it somehow tied in with the word "Nautical", thereby cementing the reputation of tattooed sailors swaggering around the sketchy districts of port towns being, well, naughty.  But that's not where the word comes from.

Naughty comes from the word naught, a still occasionally used word for "nothing".  It traces its origins deep into the muddle of Old English and High German.  The word has connotations that to the modern mind are jarring.  Those who had nothing were naughty. It was only a short jump to the opinion that they had nothing because they had bad habits...naughty behaviour as we would put it today, but without the modern winking appreciation of minor foibles.  This sense of being disobedient, especially as children, only turns up in the 1600s.

The term Nice is another interesting study in word play.  In the late 13th century it meant in Old French "foolish, stupid, senseless".  It traces back to the Latin nescius which combines "ne" indicating not, and "scire" a word that means "to know" and which also gives us "science".

As a word Nice has come up in the world a great deal.  from stupid it morphed to fussy, a meaning still preserved in the term "niceties" which denotes an excessive attention to detail.
Perhaps because being attentive to small details is universally appreciated "nice" has steadily accumulated ever more favorable connotations.

So as 2016 winds down which List am I on?  Oh, the Nice one for sure. 

I have certainly been foolish and stupid on occasion in the year that has been.  But I am far from being a person who has nothing.  I have friends, family, good health and resources sufficient for my modest needs.  

I doubt that real life incarnations of Calvin would have the patience to read this far down into a posting on etymology but if some desperate kid is trying very hard indeed to influence the decision maker at the North Pole, please, take freely what you need from the above instruction manual.  Some would say that doing so without giving credit would be naughty but I beg to differ.  It would very nice.

No comments: