If we were to go back in time about 6,500 years ago, we would encounter the Proto-Indo-European root ne, which meant "not", and another root, wiht, which meant "creature". Fast forward 5,000 years, and these two terms diffused through the Germanic tongues to become the Old English word nawiht, literally meaning "not a creature", or "nothing". This went into Middle English as naht, nought, and naught, all of which meant "nothing" as well. However, it's the last term which interests us most, as it is actually a word today (meaning "zero") and the origin of naughty. In the late 1300s, a -y suffix was attached to naught, but instead of "mischievous", its first definition was "poor, having nothing", an easier connection to make from "nothing" in the first place. Later, rich and snobby people changed the definition to something more like "lawless" or even "malignant", because of the perceived connection between poverty and crime (similar to how villain once meant "farmer"). Over time, the meaning mellowed a bit, and that's how we have the word naughty today. A major addition to our culture would occur when Monty Python coined the term "naughty bits", as well. Anyway, this connection between poverty and naughtiness finally proves that Santa targets low-income neighborhoods!
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd