• nasty •
næs-ti • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Dirty, filthy (chiefly in the US). 2. Unpleasant, disagreeable, mean-spirited, annoying.
Notes: Today's Good Word was at one time controversial. R. G. White, in 1870, warned Americans against the figurative use of nasty as a synonym for disagreeable. However, as H. L. Mencken in The American Language (1921, page 317) pointed out, it was a losing battle. Today the metaphorical "British" sense is firmly ensconced in the US dialect. This adjective comes with an adverb, nastily, and an noun, nastiness. During World War II the Nazis were facetiously referred to as the Nasties, using the adjective as a noun.
In Play: Let's begin with the American sense of nasty: "Billy, how did you get your shoes so nasty just walking to school? You have sidewalks all the way." Now, let's try the figurative sense: "Mommy, why does Mrs. Whipplesnatch get so nasty when I ask her how old she is?"
Word History: The source of today's Good Word is Old French nastre "bad, strange," a shortened form of villenastre "infamous, bad". This word comes of vilein "villain" + -astre, a pejorative suffix. Vilein originally referred to a feudal serf, presumed to be a coarse and dirty git. It was inherited from Vulgar Latin villanus "feudal serf", from Latin villa "a country house". English had a field day with this word. English borrowed it as villa, village, and as the suffix, -ville, in addition to today's word. The same pejorative suffix, -aster, can be seen in poetaster "scribbler of trashy poetry." (It would be very nasty of us not to express our gratitude to Albert Skiles for suggesting today's Good Word. Thank you, Albert.)
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