Where does the Word News Come From?

Well, let’s start with where it doesn’t come from.

It’s not, as you might have heard, an acronym of North, East, West, and South. This is a popular misconception, usually claimed to be based on the idea that news comes from all directions.

While this sounds cute, it’s really not the way words are formed at all. As I’ve pointed out before.

Instead, the truth is a bit stranger.

You see, news is actually the plural form of new. It’s the word new, with an S added to make it plural. Now, you don’t need to be a master linguist to get confused about that concept. New is an adjective, so how can it have a plural form? A plural form of an adjective in English is an impossibility. But that’s not true of other languages.

Languages like French, for example. The French word for news is nouvelles, which is the plural form of the adjective nouvelle, the female form of the French for new. In French this word would be used before a plural female noun. It was also used in medieval French translations of the Bible, replacing the Latin nova, a similar plural form of an adjective meaning new. Though this word is an adjective, it could be used to mean new things, and therefore in French nouvelles came to be used to mean new things.

It’s likely then that news came into English in the 14th century from nouvelles. Even though the notion of a plural adjective seems unusual in relation to modern English, it wouldn’t have seemed so odd at the time when French was in widespread use throughout Europe, and in use in elite circles in English-speaking countries. Plus, the grammar of Old English was much more inflected than modern English, with different types of words displaying many different forms, including plural forms of adjectives, so news wasn’t so strange at the time.

It’s possible that you’ll never see the word news in the same way again, and will now always look like new with an S at the end. But if you think about it, that’s what news is: new things that are important to know. Except for old news, which certainly will now seem like a very strange phrase indeed.

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