I have to write a paper for a class of mine, and it's about the definition of a word and its usage through time. I was assigned to write about the word "naughty", and I am trying to find credible sources that aren't blogs and are free and reliable. I did look in Merriam Webster's dictionary (Online and in the hard copy), but that isn't enough for a full research paper. Any advice or leads? Gratefully yours, -Anonymous

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    Try Etymonline Sep 2, 2020 at 19:15
  • Also Lexico
    – BoldBen
    Sep 2, 2020 at 20:16
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    I think you mean etymology. "Entymology" sounds like a weird hybrid, like the study of insect word origins. ^_^
    – Robusto
    Sep 2, 2020 at 20:19
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    Depending on your school, your library might have access to OED.com. Check with your librarian. Sep 3, 2020 at 9:14
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    @Robusto Allow me to show you a hidden wonder of our little site.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 3, 2020 at 15:46
  • @DanBron: Hahahaha!
    – Robusto
    Sep 3, 2020 at 15:54
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    I’m voting to close this question because it would belong the main site if the post showed research, but is now too old to migrate. It's not about the site itself, nor is it really a request for resources. May 31, 2023 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


The OED gives 96 variations of the spelling of "naught/nought" (of which not one is "nort") For the word "naughty", it gives a mere 12 varieties but this is probably quite low.

All this is not remarkable as English spelling did not seriously start to become regular until the 17th century.

Nought/naught (in any of its spellings and functions) originates from ne(adverb ~ not) + aught.

The earliest record of Nought/naught is as a pronoun = nothing

eOE (Mercian) Vespasian Psalter (1965) xxxiii. 9 (10) "Timete dominum omnes sancti eius, quoniam nihil deest timentibus eum : ondredað dryhten alle halge his for ðon nowiht wonu bið ðæm ondredendum hine." (eOE approx 700 - 900)

Aught is recorded about the same time in the translation of Gregory Pastoral Care in the late 9th century:

King Ælfred tr. Gregory Pastoral Care (Hatton) (1871) xviii. 133 Ðonne bið ðæt æðeleste hiw onhworfen, ðonne se æht ðara godra weorca, ðe he ær beeode, bið gewanod.

In its original meaning, "aught" = Estimation, value; opinion; reputation. [Also: deliberation, council]. (OED) and thus "ne aught" negates that, and the adjectival phrase thus becomes unesteemed; of no value unesteemed; not worthy of having an opinion of. or as OED says "naughty" "Of behaviour, an action, etc.: bad, immoral, wicked"

Noughty/naughty does not have seem to have reached the language as an adjective until sometime during the 14th century, when it was used as a moral evaluation.

c. 1380(?) Cleanness (1920) 1359 (MED) Hit is not innoghe to þe nice al noȝty þink use, Bot if alle þe worlde wyt his wykked dedes. [it is not enough for the foolish and bad people, we think, except if the whole world knows about their wicked deeds. My translation]


I always find Google Books to be an exquisitely insightful source for finding early uses of a distinct word, as their catalog is so vast, and has scans of so many antiquarian and scarce books which otherwise would be neglected, that it is sincerely "The stuff that dreams are made on" for any bibliophile, whatsoever.

Google Books: Books (written in English) with the word "naughty" used therein, from the years 1455 to 1800

The earliest use of "Naughty" as far as Google book's catalog is concerned (certainly, not the earliest use by any means, as Online Etymology Online, dates it back to the late 14th century, and I am not even certain if the initial connotation fo the word is the one you are seeking) is a delightful little rarity by the name of: "The Commendation of Matrimony" printed in 1534, so quite early for English books, seeing how "Raoul Lefevre's The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye" from 1473 seems to be the first, or at the least, one of the first books imprinted in our English tongue.

And it is the coinınon sentence and judgement of lawiecs , that he hathe an vncertayne father , and a naughty mother , whiche is not bome in ma trimony (1534)

Of course, you may certainly go to Google Books advanced search, and change what you want to find in their catalog.

Also try looking for the word, or early variants of the word in early English Bible translations: Tyndale, Geneva, Bishops, etc. Usually, Bible search websites allow you to choose which translation you would like to find a verse in.

P.S. also insightful in this study: Master William Shakespeare uses the word 15 times:

"thou naughty varlet" (Falstaff, Henry IV, Part I, act ii, scene iv)

"but a naughty orator"(Lafeu, All's Well That Ends Well, act v, scene iii)

"Prithee, nuncle, be contented! 'Tis a naughty night to swim in." (The Fool, King Lear, act iii, scene iv)

"Naughty lady" (Earl of Gloucester, King Lear, act iii, scene vii)

I checked a facsimile of the First Folio and found Shakespeare (or at least Hemminges and Condell), spelled "naughty" the same way as we do today, so at least from as far back to 1624, the word was being spelled thus:

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P.P.S here is a delightful archaic spelling for "naughty" from "A Brief Censure Upon Two Bookes Written in Answer to M. Edmonde" from 1581:

one litle sentence with noughtie ade againt his will

and this one from "The Fourme and Maner of Making and Consecratyng, Bisshops" (1559)

Which beim middest of this naughti World


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