What Part of No Don’t You Understand? Origins of the Word “No”June 10, 2023 2023-06-10 12:33
What Part of No Don’t You Understand? Origins of the Word “No”
The Global Etymology of “part No”
It is in every tongue. Several have. Explore part no’s origins and meaning.
No, from Middle English, implies “not in any degree, not at all, never.” The PIE (pre Indo European) root *ne- means “not,” while the root *aiw- means “vital force, life, long life, eternity.”
The root *aiw- gives us ever, eon, eternal, age, and the Old Norse term aevi, meaning “lifetime.” No signifies “never.“
This etymology illustrates how powerful no is. “Not now, not ever, not for my entire life, not for eternity.”
Nay, another prominent rejection word in English, originates from Old Norse nei, which comes from the same PIE roots as no.
No has the same etymology in many languages. Non in French. Italian, Spanish, and Nepalese, no. Portuguese, no. Russian, Serbian, net. Polish: nie. German: nein. Bosnian, Croatian, Czech, and Latvian say ne. Ukranian: ni.
Nej, Danish and Swedish. Icelandic and Norwegian: nei. Persian: nāh. Hindi, no. Punjabi: nahī. Bengali: nā. Latin: nihil. Irish: níl.
Languages for “No”
Greek suggests making “yes” nai to confuse Europe! Their word for “no” is ochi, which utilizes the same PIE root *ne- as no but is coupled with *ko, a root used to make words like who, what, him, her, etc.
Maori “no” is kāo or kāore. “How great is my anger!” is a grandiose remark.
Welsh uses ni, nid (for vowels), or dim, depending on context. It is one of those “fun” linguistic quirks where you actually have to be a native speaker to understand when to use dim vs. ni/nid and using one instead of the other would sound weird, but it is hard to explain why to a non-native speaker.
Dim meant “anything” in Middle Welsh, but it was used to emphasize negative remarks like “she was anything but frail.” It became another way to express “no.”
How Does Your Language Say “No”?
When did you last say “no”? Was it empowering or demoralizing? Your languages’ “no”s?
I want to study non-European word etymologies. Etymology research in unfamiliar languages is difficult. Non-native speakers can translate, but word building and history are difficult. But I am curious!