• naif •
nah-if • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A naïve person, a complete innocent.
Notes: This word is one that I hear and read less often than I once encountered. It is the personal noun for a much more common adjective, naive. I even encounter the abstract noun for this adjective, naivete. If you want to make it more French, you may add an umlaut over the I: naïf.
In Play: We use this word when referring to total innocence: "Protestors for world peace are a bunch starry-eyed naifs that have no idea of political reality." We all know a naif or two: "Glenda is such a naif, she thinks Moby Dick is a social disease."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the masculine adjective corresponding to the feminine naïve in French. This word is a French makeover of Latin nativus "native, rustic, unspoiled". This word is based on natus "born", the past participle of nasci "to beget, to bear (a child)". This verb is the remains of an earlier gnasci with the same meaning. Latin also had a word gignere with the same meaning. Both were Latin renditions of PIE gene- "to give birth to, to beget". Latin also preserved the original PIE root in a host of words from which English borrowed heavily: generatio(n) "begetting", generator "begetter, producer", genesis "birth", genialis "genial", genitalis "of birth, fruitful, generative", to mention but a few. (Now let's thank George Kovac of the great state of Florida, who couldn't be farther from a naif, for suggesting today's fascinating Good Word.)
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