Printable Version
Pronunciation: no-sênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Harmful, injurious, hurtful. 2. Guilty, criminal (antonym: innocent).

Notes: Today we have a word whose antonym is vastly more popular than it. It comes with an even more rarely used adverb, nocently, and noun, nocency. If you don't mind obsolescence, you may use it as a noun meaning "a guilty person".

In Play: The adjective use of nocent can mean "guilty" but also "harmful": "The ale in that pub is not only terrible, it is nocent; I get Delhi belly every time I drink it." The noun only means "the guilty": "The phrase 'Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater' means 'Don't punish the innocent with the nocent'."

Word History: Today's Good Word hails from France, specifically, from Middle French nocent "harmful; guilty", which was passed down from Latin nocen(t)s "harmful", the present participle of nocere "to harm, hurt". Latin created its verb from PIE nek-/nok- "death, die", which also underlies Sanskrit nasyati "disappears, passes", Latin nex, necis "murder, death" and noxius "harmful, injurious", and Greek nekros "corpse". This PIE word also made headway in the Celtic languages after metathesis, like Breton Ankou "the mythological personification of death" and Welsh angau "death". (Susan Maynard recommended we serve up nocebo as a Good Word, but I decided to step back a bit.)

Dr. Goodword,

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