Thursday, September 2, 2010

Words that Should Get a Divorce (One in a continuing series on words whose relationships have grown tired)

for and naught

Poor naught. While its partner, for, runs around with every other word under the sun, naught can't find a single other preposition that will give it the time of day.

You'll never see from naught, to naught, with naught, or at naught. And no way will naught ever get to strike out on its own, heading up a sentence like "Naught is what you've got."

Nope, naught is hopelessly codependent.

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Ax said...

Naught has naught going for it.

It even fell out of my browsers dictionary!

June Casagrande said...

Hey, that's naught bad! (Unlike my rejoinder.)

Adrian Morgan said...

The phrase "comes to naught" is probably the most common counterexample. Google also reports over 100,000 results for "from naught to" and over 10,000 for "down to naught".

I expected there'd be lots of results for these, which is why I searched for them. Results for "with naught" and "at naught" are more likely to surprise.

In my experience, children are often taught to say "naught" before they're taught to say "zero".

June Casagrande said...

That is SO interesting! I had no idea that "naught" was so common in other parts of the world -- and I've never heard it used with "from."

I'd be interested to know how much more often it's used in Australia than here. I bet you'd be hard pressed to find a fifth-grader here who knows what it means. But, then, I'm guessing. So I could be wrong.

Adrian Morgan said...

I realise now that I'm more familiar with it spelled nought rather than naught. Spelling was a long way from my mind when I commented yesterday. Google reports even more results for "from nought to".

You're probably aware that "noughts and crosses" is the British and Australian name for the game Americans call "tic tac toe". Whether that's a cause or an effect of nought's relative popularity I don't know, but as I said, it's part of any child's vocabulary. (To a five-year-old, "zero" is basically mathematical jargon for "nought".)

I also feel that nought is reasonably common in place of zero in casual speech, and particularly when talking about ranges, e.g. "pick a number from nought to ten". Or one might describe a million as "a one followed by six noughts". That sounds a lot more casual and less technical than saying zero.

June Casagrande said...

Ah, that "nought" business makes me feel better.

And, nope, never heard of "noughts and crosses." Ever since we filled out the width of this continent we've seen no need to pay attention to other parts of the world.

: )


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