Thursday 10 December 2009

Naughty Noughty

As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade
Some Australians have run a competition to see what to call the next one. They have concluded that the years of our Lord 2010-2019 should be called the One-ders. They give two reasons for this:

1. There is hope for many scientific, humanitarian and environmental breakththroughs.
2. The inclusion of number one in every year

For some reason, upon reading this my fists started to spasm and I could think about nothing other than ritual dismemberment involved in the Viking blood-eagle sacrifice. But that's by the by. More important is that nobody seems to agree on what to call the decade towards the end of which we are wearily trudging. Most newspapers dodge the issue by referring to the 2000's. Newsreaders tend to ge out of it with "this decade", "this century" or "since the millenium" and, if pushed, refer to the "two thousands".

Once you're on to the laxity of the review section the name becomes the noughties. This seems far more common, though, in Britain (380 recent uses) than in America (a mere 46).

Noughties is obviously a pun on naughty and suggests the naughty nineties of Wilde, Whistler, Dowson and all those other sinners. The thing about the naughty/noughty pun is that the etymology of the two words is the same. A wight with no possessions was a nowight or nought/naught. Such people tend to be criminals and are therefore naughty.

Naughty used to be a far more serious word. When I arrested Conrad for deceiving the duke and maligning a girl so terribly that she had to fake her own death I called him a "naughty varlet", and that wasn't just me mixing up my words: Leonato used the word naughty too. It's a bit of problem for Shakespeare. I remember the whispered titter that overtook the National Theatre once when I was watching King Lear and Gloucester, having his eyes torn out, calls Regan a "naughty lady".

But of course like so many words it has been used too much in exaggeration and disobedient children were being called naughty by the 1630s. Incidentally, aught, to mean nothing is simply a metanalysis from a naught to an aught, in the way that the snake called a nadder became an adder.

I don't know what to call the next decade. As I believe I said before: Dost thou not suspect my years?

Me arresting a naughty varlet


  1. The process of recutting two words, ie "an aught" - "a naught", is metanalysis, not metathesis.

  2. I'm pretty sure the Shakespearean sense can still be found on the football terraces. You're naughty if you have something really grisly on your conscience, torture, 2nd degree murder etc. I think you can find examples of this, though you'd have to look outside of the books.