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Thursday, 5 July 2012


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.


LD Masterson said...

Nidderling is a new word for me but, you're right, it's perfect. A pox on MS Word. And an excellent warning to us all.

Mike Keyton said...

Thanks, LD and a pox on those who would make us nidderlings - though with one caveat

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are nidderlings."
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

With apologies to Shakespeare for that final tweak : )

Maria Zannini said...

Even if I died today, I think I can die with a clear conscience. I've lived a full life.

Short, but interesting.

Mike Keyton said...

Damn right, Maria

Unknown said...

I think I can die with a clear conscience too. What a wonderful word though.

I now have Ashes to Ashes stuck in my head. Thanks. :)

Mike Keyton said...

Shirley, there are worse things to have in your head. Mind I wouldn't fancy dreaming it - a clown advancing on me singing...

Jay Paoloni said...

I love your review of this word!
You should do word reviews more often!
Thanks for reminding me of such an amazing term. I used to term people brats, guttersnipes, brazen nitwits, but nidderling had somewhat fell out of my vocabulary in use.
Look forward to the next word.
Besides, it's so very English. I don't think Americans will understand when I call them nidderlings - or nidderings...
Our dialect has something, to me, that American English doesn't have: at once humour, history, myth, accident, sound, and insult when necessary!!

nikki broadwell said...

thought-provoking post, as usual! this word is new to me but I think I will replace 'nimrod' with nidderling in my writing and speech since the sound is so perfect...

Anonymous said...

Nidderling... You ARE right, Mike! One's face scrunches most unpleasantly when it crosses the lips.

And MS Word's "dictionary" <- Created by monkeys.

Actually, monkeys probably would have done a better job... Hmm.

Mike Keyton said...

Jay, sometimes the word hunts you, rather than the other way round : )

Nikki, thanks for the compliment. Hope you and 'nidderling' form a fruitful partnership. Between us all we might bring an unfairly defunct word back in use.

Tracy, Hope your face has recovered - the expression is a bit like sucking a lemon : )

Misha Gerrick said...

So true. I really don't want to come to the end of my life and wonder if anything I did actually meant anything.


Anonymous said...

I definitely do not want to be a nidderling. I've been called a few things in this life, but never a nidderling. So I guess I'm doing pretty good so far.

Mike Keyton said...

I don't think you'll face that problem, Misha.

Stephen I've never been called a nidderling either - but then few people know of the word : )Just mutter it once before leaving the house and the odds are you will avoid the curse of the nidderling : )