• aught •
Pronunciation: awt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass, Adverb
Meaning: 1. [Noun] Anything, all, everything 2. [Noun] Nothing, zero, or the symbol for zero, 0. 3. [Adverb] At all.
Notes: English has a peculiar way of expressing years, for example 1923 = nineteen (hundred) twenty-three. All other non-Germanic Indo-European languages use thousand, as in one thousand nine hundred and twenty-three. This presents English with a problem for the first decade of a millennium, since twenty hundred is unacceptable and to refer to the years of the first decade as simply one, two, or three would be incomprehensible. The solution has always been to use the term aught as, "We are now living in aught nine ('09)." This word has a negative variant, naught, which is the actual source of this sense of today's word (see Word History).
In Play: Be careful not to confuse this Good Word with the auxiliary verb, ought: "I ought to have naught to say to him since his release from prison back in aught one ('01)." In a more positive vein, we may also say, "Has she aught to offer a poor lonely fellow like me?" when we mean "anything".
Word History: Today's is as authentic an English word as ever there was. It comes from Old English á "ever" + with (wight) "creature, thing," literally "ever a thing", pretty close to "everything". The word's meaning migrated to its antonym (from "all" to "nothing") via reanalysis, when some people mistook a naught for an aught, drawing the line between the two words where it shouldn't be. This mistake led us to the word naughty. Its original meaning was "having naught, poor", back when poor folk were assumed to be bad. (We have naught but gratitude for Leonard Pelletier for aught he lent us in suggesting this Good Word.)