Saturday, May 10, 2008

That's New(s) To Me

Thanks to a comment from Den on one of my recent posts, I was moved to research the origin of the way “news” interacts with verbs as a singular plural. While it is a collective noun, you never see someone write about a “new”.

In several places, folks have repeated the folksy rumor that news stands for “north, east, west, south”, as an acronym for information coming from all points of the compass. However cute that story, it holds no truth. As the Wordwizard has kindly explained, the etymology began in the singular word “newe”. agrees, as well, but I link to them plenty.

Imagine someone calling out, “What news?” They are asking you for any new information about people or events that may be of interest to you. While the dusty origins of the word may be plural, its use refers to a conglomeration of single events.

Thus, what used to be a “newe” has now become an article or a “piece of news” or even, heaven forfend, a “news item”. The news has become a single entity, like the ocean, and just as polluted with garbage, as often as not. Both are made up of myriad tiny pieces, in which unwary explorers can drown if they forget to use their brains.

I fear I've gone a bit off track, here. Suffice it to say that the word “news” acts as a singular word, a sort of collective noun for tidbits of information that you may not yet have known. I suspect that this is not news to you.