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, wekti, which meant "thing". Fast forward 5,000 years, and these two terms made their way through Proto-Germanic to become the Old English word nawiht, literally meaning "not a thing", or "nothing". This went into Middle English as naht, nought, and naught, all of which meant "nothing" as well. You'll recognize that last spelling as one that has survived to today, but wait, there's more! In the late 1300s, a -y was attached to naught to create a new word meaning "poor" or, literally, "having nothing". Later, rich and snobby people changed the definition to "lawless" and "malignant", because of the perceived connection between poverty and crime (for a similar example, see the etymology of villain). Over time, the meaning mellowed a bit, and that's how we have our modern word naughty.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.