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.