Etymology of ‘News’

The English word 'news' does not derive from an acronym formed from the words 'north,' east,' 'west,' and 'south.'

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The word news is an acronym formed from the words north, east, west, and south.



Some explanations are just too simple to accept:

The notion that the English word news — that is, information about recent events — is the plural of the word new just doesn’t sound right, so somebody cooked up the notion that the word is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the four cardinal compass points (north, east, west, and south), supposedly because news is information from all over the land.

Similar folk etymologies include the idea that ‘news’ derives from an acronym for the phrase “Notable Events, Weather, and Sports”:

This tidbit is also obviously not true, as the concept of “news” was around (and was referred to as such) long before professional sports and reliable weather forecasting became mainstays of that industry (or even existed).

It’s not surprising that the real explanation sounds a bit odd to us, because new is an adjective and not a noun, so how could it have a plural form? The answer is that although adjectives don’t generally have plurals in English, they do in other languages. In some Romance languages, for example, adjectives change to agree in number with the nouns they modify. In Spanish a white house is a casa blanca, but white houses are casas blancas. Likewise, in French a tall woman is a grande femme, but tall women are grandes femmes. When nouveau, the French word for new, modifies a plural (feminine) noun, it becomes nouvelles, which is also the French word for news.

Not so strange after all.

  • Rawson, Hugh.   Devious Derivations.
        New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994.   ISBN 0-517-88128-4   (p. 144).

  • The Compact Oxford English Dictionary.
        Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.   ISBN 0-19-861258-3.

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