Nidderling is a wonderful word. The mouth frames its disgust in just saying it, and it slides from the tongue like gristle and spit. Nidderling: a thin, mean sound, which sums up its meaning: An unworthy fellow, a coward, a man of no consequence. You do not want to die a nidderling. You don’t want to live a nidderling.
The Anglo Saxons, masters of brevity, when they chose, created this brilliant fusion of meaning and sound - well not quite. They had help. The original word was 'Nithing' or 'Niding'. An even meaner sound perhaps but less poetic. We owe it to a shortsighted sixteenth century printer, a compositer who had trouble with medieval manuscripts - in this case William of Malmsbury's Chronicle. His misreading of 'Nithing' gives us the glorious Nidderling. That is the true glory of English - fusion and accident, and an ear for the 'sound'.
‘Word’ however disapproves. It lines it in red on the screen. It’s never heard of such a thing - a challenge to put it in your dictionaries at once. And use it! Or join the ranks of nidderlings browbeaten by Microsoft Word.
We are surrounded by nidderlings, we are run by nidderlings. But that's no reason to join them. Don’t on your death-bed realise the unpalatable truth. Here dies a nidderling. Don’t have engraved on your stone: ‘Here lies a nidderling’…or even worse – a ‘Niddering.’
How to avoid it? Listen to David Bowie's ‘Ashes to Ashes’ at least once a week – in lieu of Church for the non-religious – and focus on the verse:
I’ve never done good things
I’ve never done bad things
I’ve never done anything out of the blue
Especially that last line.