Nocent and Innocent. . . or. . . What a Difference an In Makes

What do you think when you see the word nocent? Upon first glance, it appears to be a street version of innocent, shaved down to fit a rapper’s screed. Or perhaps a text version, considering the character limits of texting and the inverted brain limits of some texters. If used in either context, however, it would be incorrect.

You might then consider it a misspelling of nascent, an adjective speaking to the beginnings of things, first drafts, raw origins. Nascent would only apply if one was at the very beginnings of a notorious career of nocent activities.

The origin of nocent is Middle French, spelled the same, descending from the Latin nocens, meaning injurious, guilty, guilty person, and, nocere, meaning to hurt, injure. So to be nocent was to be guilty of some injurious action.

How did nocent become innocent? The prefix in can be found in ready use in Old English, in its autological meaning, but is of Latin origin. In this sense, in creates a negative force, modifying an adjective such that the meaning is switched to the opposite of the original. Thus decent becomes indecent, decisive becomes indecisive, and nocent becomes innocent.

It’s often said that the little things in life can mean a lot. This is certainly the case with those wrongly accused of nocent behavior. . . what a different an in makes.

Concatenating To Complexity

For those training towards a specific goal, whether it be an endeavor of personal athleticism, titling in a competitive dog sport, publishing a novel, or any of a myriad of other ambitions, moving in a logical manner is paramount.

A vital key to success is to learn in steps, breaking down each aspect of the exercise into singular component parts. In dog training, this is known as chaining. Individual chains, in this sense, finds its origins in the Latin word catena, meaning “a connected series.” It’s the perfect way to clarify the elements of dog training. And clarity is very much needed in dog training, not only for the dog, but also for the trainer. One must be precisely clear in what one’s goals for the dog are, but also one’s own, as well as how to achieve them.

This is not as easy as it may seem at first. Even the most basic commands require more than one step, more than one link, each serving to connect one part to the next. Link comes from the late Middle English link, which descended from the Old Danish laenkia, “chain,” a word kindred to the Old Norse hlekkr, “link.”

Forming these various links into a successful goal requires one to concatenate, the action of uniting links into a chain. The origin of this word requires us to concatenate late Middle England back to Italy, then connect the Latin past participle concatenare, meaning “to link together.”

The ultimate objective is to achieve mastery. This is the final, highly-polished product of learning, then becoming proficient in all the intricate links. The path to success is a matter of concatenating to complexity.

Hypocoristic Hypocrisy

Have you a nickname, a pet name used by those closest to you? The word itself is a nickname, having its origin in the erroneous splitting of a mid-15th century English word ekename, meaning “an additional name.” The root is an Old English word, eaca, meaning “an increase.” This is just one fascinating example of how fresh words enter into any language. At the deepest root, they germinate from action and interplay between people.

The seed of ekename is much deeper, sewn in the rich linguistic loam of ancient Greece: hypocoristic. The etymology of hypocoristic is fascinating, originating in another word, hupokorizomai, meaning “I speak in the language of children.”

What, exactly, is the language of children? For me, the language of children is naturally one of curiosity, exploration, discovery, and joy. In the case of nicknames, the origin is surely between siblings, one child unable to pronounce the name of the other. In my childhood, I spoke many languages—of play, of study, of nature, and even a secret language shared with my sister. Thus was the hypocoristy of my youth.

Have you ever known someone with a self-chosen nickname? It’s always seemed a smug thing, not self-awareness, but a pretense of virtue. This is hypocrisy defined, the source being, again from the grounds of ancient Attica, the word hypokrisis, “acting” and “pretense,” as in playing a role onstage. Beneath this is a more specific word, hypokrinesthai, to “play a part, to pretend.” From Greece, the word evolved through Late Latin and Old French, then lost its “h” in Middle English to become ipocrisie. (The “h” returned sometime in the 16th century.)

I’ve never known a child who chose her own nickname; it seems an adult choice. But what would motivate self-denomination? Perhaps it’s not as hypocritical as it appears; perhaps it signals a very autogenous gesture by a very confident individual, someone choosing to negate the power of a less-than-laudatory label bestowed by someone else.

For me, at least, I think I prefer the hypocoristic tagging rites of my childhood.