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niddering (NID-uhr-ing) noun, adjective

A coward or wretch.

[From erroneous reading of Middle English nithing, from Old English nithing. This form of the word originated in the 1596 text of historian William of Malmesbury.]

"And so it goes on without ever reaching the heart of the matter, which is that the BBC is really a state of mind. It is, as Colin Morris once put it, the collective memory of the people who made it a great broadcasting organisation. This idea is quite beyond the niddering regime currently running the Corporation." John Naughton, Inside Job on Awkward Customers Inside the BBC, The Guardian (London), Apr 24, 1994.

"Even William the Conqueror, hated as he was by them, continued to draw a considerable army of Anglo-Saxons to his standard, by threatening to stigmatize those who staid at home, as nidering." Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, 1819.

Ever misspell a word in your school report that cost you a grade? Ever make a typo in an office memo for which you paid a heavy price? Don't be disheartened if you think you may never master the whimsies of the English language. Take comfort in the fact that there's no universal god of orthography who once decreed, "And ye shall spell potato as p-o-t-a-t-o." The spelling of a word is merely something we've collectively agreed upon. Your version of spelling might have been the right one if you were born just at the right time and read or wrote just the right text. As we'll see this week, there are words that were once misspelled and those misspellings somehow stuck. All the words featured this week had their spellings altered in the course of history because someone mis-read, mis-printed, mis-wrote, or mis-copied and missed the "right" spelling. -Anu


Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. -William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

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