From Middle English nithing, nithinc, nything, nythyng, nythynge, niþinge, nyþing, nyþyng, Early Middle English niðing, niþinc, niþincke (coward, wretch; good-for-nothing; term of address for a boy or lad; stingy or miserly person; niggardly, miserly, stingy),[1] from Late Old English nithing, Old English niðing, nīþing (coward; wretch; outlaw, villain), from a North Germanic language, from Proto-Germanic *nīþą (envy; hate; malice) (from Proto-Indo-European *neyH- (to be angry)) + *-ingō, *-ungō (suffix forming gerund nouns from verbs).[2]

The English word is cognate with Danish nidding, Late Latin nidingus, nithingus, Middle High German nīdinc, nīdunc (modern German Neiding ((archaic) one who is envious)), Old Norse níðingr (Icelandic níðingur (scoundrel, rascal), Norwegian niding), Old Swedish nīþinger (modern Swedish niding).[2]



nithing (plural nithings)

  1. (archaic) A coward, a dastard; a wretch.
    Synonyms: nidering, niddering; see also Thesaurus:coward
    • 1605, M. N. [pseudonym; William Camden], “The Languages”, in Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, [], London: [] G[eorge] E[ld] for Simon Waterson, OCLC 1064186951, page 30:
      [W]hen there was a daungerous rebellion againſt King William Rufus and Rocheſter Caſtle then the moſt important & ſtrongeſt fort of this Realm was ſtowtly kept againſt him, after that he had but proclaimed that his ſubjects ſhould repaire thither to his Campe, vpon no other penaltie, but that whoſoeuer refuſed to come, ſhould be reputed a Niding: they ſwarmed to him immediatly from all ſides in ſuch numbers, that he had in a few daies an infinite Armie, and the rebells therewith weere ſo terrified, that they forthwith yeelded.
    • 1789, Robert Henry, chapter VII, in The History of Great Britain, from the First Invasion of It by the Romans under Julius Cæsar. [], 2nd edition, Dublin: Printed for P. Byrne, [], and J. Jones, [], OCLC 608367106, book II, page 472:
      To call a Dane a nithing, was like ſetting fire to gunpowder, and inſtantly excited ſuch a flame of rage, as nothing but his own blood or the blood of the offender could extinguiſh [...].
    • 1903 April 22, Ottilie A[delina] Liljencrantz, “The Game of Swords”, in The Ward of King Canute: A Romance of the Danish Conquest, Chicago, Ill.: Published by A[lexander] C[aldwell] McClurg & Co., OCLC 5246941, page 74:
      To get gold to buy peace, they will sell their children into slavery. Sooner than look our swords in the face, they will yield us their daughters to be our thralls! Oath-breakers, nithings! Will you be beaten by such? Vikings, Odinmen, forward!
    • 1905, George Burton Adams, “Feudalism and a Strong King”, in William Hunt and Reginald L[ane] Poole, editors, The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John (1066–1216) (The Political History of England in Twelve Volumes; II), London; New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green, and Co. [], OCLC 489894256, page 76:
      For this siege the king again appealed to the country and called for the help of all under the old Saxon penalty of the disgraceful name of "nithing."
    • 2010 May 21, Michael Ejercito, “Libertarianism, Federalism, and Racism [comment section]”, in Ilya Somin, The Volokh Conspiracy[1], archived from the original on 3 April 2019:
      Do victims of the Holocaust and anti-Judaism care about how logical and unmalicious Jacoby's motives are? Do you think Jeff Jacoby is a Nazi nithing or a Holocaust denier?
    • 2014, Joanna Fulford, chapter 11, in Surrender to the Viking, Don Mills, Ont.: Harlequin Historical, →ISBN, page 139:
      Surely there must be one among this crowd of nithings who has the guts to face a woman in combat?
  2. (archaic) A wicked person; also, one who has acted immorally or unlawfully.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:villain

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nithing (comparative more nithing, superlative most nithing)

  1. (archaic) Cowardly, dastardly.
    Synonyms: nidering, niddering; see also Thesaurus:cowardly
    • 1770, [Paul Henri] Mallet, “The Passion of the Ancient Scandinavians for Arms: Their Valour: The Manner in which They Made War. []”, in [Thomas Percy], transl., Northern Antiquities: Or, a Description of the Manners, Customs, Religion and Laws of the Ancient Danes, and Other Northern Nations; Including Those of Our Own Saxon Ancestors. [] In Two Volumes. [], volume I, London: Printed for T. Carnan and Co. [], OCLC 1015516530, pages 218–219:
      In Denmark, and through all the North, they provoked a man to fight a duel, by publicly calling him Niding or "infamous†:" for he who had received ſo deep a ſtain, without endeavouring to waſh it out with the blood of his adverſary, would have loſt much more than the life he was ſo deſirous to ſave. [Footnote †: [...] King William Rufus having occaſion to draw together a ſudden body of forces, only ſent word to all ſuch as held of him in fee, that thoſe who did not repair to his aſſiſtance, ſhould be deemed Nithing; and without further ſummons they all flocked to his ſtandard.]
    • 1877, J[ames] Franck Bright, “William II. 1087–1100.”, in A History of England: Period I. Mediæval Monarchy from the Departure of the Romans to Richard III. 449–1485, 2nd revised edition, London; Oxford, Oxfordshire: Rivingtons [], OCLC 9478228, page 57:
      Odo [of Bayeux] occupied the castle of Rochester, and against it William [II] led a body of English, collected by a threat that all who had remained behind should be proclaimed "nithing," or worthless.
  2. (archaic) Notoriously evil or wicked; infamous.
    Synonyms: nidering, niddering; see also Thesaurus:evil
    • 1935, “[The Older Law of the Gulathing] The Law of Personal Rights”, in Laurence M[arcellus] Larson, transl., The Earliest Norwegian Laws: Being the Gulathing Law and the Frostathing Law: Translated from the Old Norwegian (Records of Civilization, Sources and Studies; 20), New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, OCLC 327489969, page 137; reprinted Clark, N.J.: The Lawbook Exchange, 2008, →ISBN, section 178 (Concerning Housebreaking), page 137:
      If a man breaks into another man's house to attack him and kill him, that shall be called a nithing crime. It is a nithing crime if a man slays one to whom he has given pledges of safety. [...] And in every case when a man is [found] guilty of a nithing crime he shall depart as an outlaw who has forfeited his personal rights and his property to the last penny, land as well as movables.

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  1. ^ nīthing, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 nithing, n. and adj.”, in OED Online  , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2003; “nithing, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.

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