Sunday, March 01, 2015

Things That Are Noxious in the Night

Stella wrote to ask if the word noxious is indebted to the Latin word for night, nox. “Since primitive times,” she reasoned, “night and darkness have been seen as dangerous.”

Noxious means harmful, poisonous, and unwholesome. It comes from the Latin noxa, harm or injury. Related is the word obnoxious. Originally, obnoxious meant subject to harm. Now it refers to someone or something offensive and disagreeable. Now considered rare are two other words meaning harmful: nocible and nocive.

The Latin word for night is nox, but it has no connection to noxious other than the letter sequence. English words derived from the Latin word for night usually take their spelling from the genitive singular form, noctis, leading to words such as nocturn, nocturne, and nocturnal.

Other word parts carrying the meaning harmful include deleter- (deleterious), pericul- (periculous), and pesti- (pestiferous).

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