Friday, July 26, 2013

Extreme Word Makeover: Naughty

If I had to nominate a word in the English language to receive the "Extreme Word Makeover" award, that word would be naughty.

How its fortunes have changed!

Originally, it stemmed from the word "naught", meaning "nothing".  As in, having nothing, worth nothing, needy.

I still consider the mainstream meaning of the word naughty to be "wicked, evil, or morally wrong".  But it seems that the word has rehabilitated itself quite nicely in recent years.

Now it seems to be a largely positive adjective.  Which seems more exciting or interesting to a modern hearer:  "librarian" or "naughty librarian"?  "Vicar" or "naughty vicar"?  The word now seems to be used to jack up the noun which it modifies.  And, far from rendering that noun as "naught" as it once would have done, it now seems to enhance the thing.

I suppose that there are two reasons for this.  One is the increasing popularity of moral wickedness itself.  Or if not of the actual wickedness, then an openness to be honest about loving moral wickedness.  The term "wicked" itself is now one of approbation, we must realize.

The second reason, I think, falls squarely in God's lap.  The old idea was that God would eventually bring workers of naughtiness and the naughty deeds themselves ... to naught.  But He is patient (not to say "slow") about this work, and so we sometimes forget that, indeed, there is nothingness and void which eventually awaits the naughty person, the naughty deed.