fourteenth letter of the English alphabet; in chemistry, the symbol for nitrogen.

In late Middle English a and an commonly were joined to the following noun, if that word began with a vowel, which caused confusion over how such words ought to be divided when written separately. In nickname, newt, and British dialectal naunt, the -n- belongs to a preceding indefinite article an or possessive pronoun mine.

Other examples of this from Middle English manuscripts include a neilond ("an island," early 13c.), a narawe ("an arrow," c. 1400), a nox ("an ox," c. 1400), a noke ("an oak," early 15c.), a nappyle ("an apple," early 15c.), a negge ("an egg," 15c.), a nynche ("an inch," c. 1400), a nostryche ("an ostrich," c. 1500). My naunt for mine aunt is recorded from 13c.-17c. None other could be no noder (mid-15c.). My nown (for mine own) was frequent 15c.-18c. In 16c., an idiot sometimes became a nidiot (1530s), which, with still-common casual pronunciation, became nidget (1570s), now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.

It is "of constant recurrence" in the 15c. vocabularies, according to Thomas Wright, their modern editor. One has, among many others, Hoc alphabetum ... a nabse, from misdivision of an ABC (and pronouncing it as a word), and Hic culus ... a ners. Also compare nonce, pigsney. Even in 19c. provincial English and U.S., noration (from an oration) was "a speech; a rumor."

The process also worked in surnames, from oblique cases of Old English at "by, near," as in Nock/Nokes/Noaks from atten Oke "by the oak;" Nye from atten ye "near the lowland;" and see Nashville. (Elision of the vowel of the definite article also took place and was standard in Chancery English of the 15c.: þarchebisshop for "the archbishop," thorient for "the orient.")

But it is more common for an English word to lose an -n- to a preceding a: apron, auger, adder, umpire, humble pie, etc. By a related error in Elizabethan English, natomy or atomy was common for anatomy, noyance (annoyance) and noying (adj.) turn up 14c.-17c., and Marlowe (1590) has Natolian for Anatolian.  The tendency is not limited to English: compare Luxor, jade (n.1), lute, omelet, and Modern Greek mera for hēmera, the first syllable being confused with the article.

The mathematical use of n for "an indefinite number" is attested by 1717 in phrases such as to the nth power (see nth). In Middle English n. was written in form documents to indicate an unspecified name of a person to be supplied by the speaker or reader.

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foot (n.)

"terminal part of the leg of a vertebrate animal," Old English fot "foot," from Proto-Germanic *fōts (source also of Old Frisian fot, Old Saxon fot, Old Norse fotr, Danish fod, Swedish fot, Dutch voet, Old High German fuoz, German Fuß, Gothic fotus "foot"), from PIE root *ped- "foot." Plural form feet is an instance of i-mutation.

The linear measure was in Old English (the exact length has varied over time), this being considered the length of a man's foot; a unit of measure used widely and anciently. In this sense the plural is often foot. The current inch and foot are implied from measurements in 12c. English churches (Flinders Petrie, "Inductive Metrology"), but the most usual length of a "foot" in medieval England was the foot of 13.2 inches common throughout the ancient Mediterranean. The Anglo-Saxon foot apparently was between the two. All three correspond to units used by the Romans, and possibly all three lengths were picked up by the Anglo-Saxons from the Romano-Britons. "That the Saxon units should descend to mediæval times is most probable, as the Normans were a ruling, and not a working, class." [Flinders Petrie, 1877]. The medieval Paul's Foot (late 14c.) was a measuring standard cut into the base of a column at the old St. Paul's cathedral in London. The metrical foot (late Old English, translating Latin pes, Greek pous in the same sense) is commonly taken to represent one rise and one fall of a foot: keeping time according to some, dancing according to others.

In Middle English also "a person" (c. 1200), hence non-foot "nobody." Meaning "bottom or lowest part of anything eminent or upright" is from c. 1200. Of a bed, grave, etc., from c. 1300. On foot "by walking" is from c. 1300. To get off on the wrong foot is from 1905 (the right foot is by 1907); to put one's best foot foremost first recorded 1849 (Shakespeare has the better foot before, 1596); Middle English had evil-foot (adv.) "through mischance, unluckily." To put one's foot in (one's) mouth "say something stupid" is attested by 1942; the expression put (one's) foot in something "make a mess of it" is from 1823. To have one foot in the grave "be near death" is from 1844. Colloquial exclamation my foot! expressing "contemptuous contradiction" [OED] is attested by 1923, probably euphemistic for my ass in the same sense, which dates to 1796 (also see eyewash).

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right (adj.1)

[correct, morally correct, direct] Old English riht, of actions, "just, good, fair, in conformity with moral law; proper, fitting, according to standard; rightful, legitimate, lawful; correct in belief, orthodox;" of persons or their characters, "disposed to do what is good or just;" also literal, "straight, not bent; direct, being the shortest course; erect," from Proto-Germanic *rehtan (source also of Old Frisian riucht "right," Old Saxon reht, Middle Dutch and Dutch recht, Old High German reht, German recht, Old Norse rettr, Gothic raihts), from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line," also "to rule, to lead straight, to put right" (source also of Greek orektos "stretched out, upright;" Latin rectus "straight, right;" Old Persian rasta- "straight; right," aršta- "rectitude;" Old Irish recht "law;" Welsh rhaith, Breton reiz "just, righteous, wise").

Compare slang straight (adj.1) "honest, morally upright," and Latin rectus "right," literally "straight," Lithuanian teisus "right, true," literally "straight." Greek dikaios "just" (in the moral and legal sense) is from dike "custom."

By 1580s as "in conformity with truth, fact, or reason; correct, not erroneous;" of persons, "thinking or acting in accordance with truth or the facts of the case," 1590s. Of solid figures, "having the base at right angle with the axis," 1670s. The sense of "leading in the proper or desired direction" is by 1814. As an emphatic, meaning "you are right," it is recorded from 1580s; use as a question meaning "am I not right?" is by 1961. Extended colloquial form righto is attested by 1896.

The sense in right whale (by 1733) is said in dictionaries to be "justly entitled to the name" (a sense that goes back to Old English); earliest sources for the term, in New England whaling publications, list it first among whales and compare the others to it. Of persons who are socially acceptable and potentially influential (the right people) by 1842.

Right stuff "best human ingredients" is from 1848, popularized by Tom Wolfe's 1979 book about the first astronauts. Right angle is from late 14c. The right way originally was "the way of moral righteousness, the path to salvation" (Old English); the sense of "correct method, what is most conducive to the end in vision" is by 1560s. The sense in in one's right mind is of "mentally normal or sound" (1660s).

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