Etymology
Advertisement
apron (n.)

"apparel for covering the front of a person" (especially while at work, to keep clothes clean), mid-15c., faulty separation (as also in adder, auger, umpire) of a napron (c. 1300), from Old French naperon "small table-cloth," diminutive of nappe "cloth," from Latin mappa "napkin." Napron was still in use late 16c. The shift of Latin -m- to -n- was a tendency in Old French (conter from computare, printemps from primum, natte "mat, matting," from matta).

The word was extended 17c. to things which resemble or function like an apron. It has been symbolic of "a wife's business" from 1610s; apron-string tenure in old law was in reference to property held in virtue of one's wife, or during her lifetime only.

Even at his age, he ought not to be always tied to his mother's apron string. [Anne Brontë, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," 1848]
Related entries & more 
Advertisement
napkin (n.)

late 14c., "a table napkin, small square piece of cloth used to wipe the lips and hands and protect the clothes at table," a diminutive of nape "a tablecloth" (from Old French nape "tablecloth, cloth cover, towel," from Latin mappa; see map (n.)) + Middle English -kin "little." No longer felt as a diminutive. The Old French diminutive was naperon (see apron). The shift of Latin -m- to -n- was a tendency in Old French (conter from computare, printemps from primum, natte "mat, matting," from matta). Middle English also had naperie "linen objects; sheets, tablecloths, napkins, etc.;" also, "place where the linens are kept." Napkin-ring is from 1680s.

Related entries & more 
adder (n.)

Middle English naddre, from Old English (West Saxon) næddre (Mercian nedre, Northumbrian nedra), "a snake; the Serpent in the Garden of Eden," from Proto-Germanic *naethro "a snake" (source also of Old Norse naðra, Middle Dutch nadre, Old High German natra, German Natter, Gothic nadrs), from PIE root *nētr- "snake" (source also of Latin natrix "water snake" (the sense is probably by folk-association with nare "to swim"); Old Irish nathir, Welsh neidr "snake, serpent").

The modern form represents a faulty separation 14c.-16c. of a nadder into an adder, for which see also apron, auger, nickname, orange, humble pie, aitchbone, umpire. Nedder is still a northern English dialect form.

Since Middle English the word has been restricted to use as the common name of the viper, the only poisonous British reptile (though not generally fatal to humans), then by extension it was applied to venomous or similar snakes elsewhere (puff-adder, etc.). Folklore connection with deafness is via Psalms lviii.1-5. The adder is said to stop up its ears to avoid hearing the snake charmer called in to drive it away.

Related entries & more 
N 

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.

Related entries & more 
metanalysis (n.)

in linguistics, "re-interpretation of the division between words" (as an apron from a napron, an adder from a nadder), 1914, from meta- "transcending, overarching, dealing with the most fundamental matters of" + analysis. Coined by Danish philologist Otto Jespersen.

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
pinafore (n.)

1782, "sleeveless apron worn by children," originally to protect the front of the dress, from pin (v.) + afore "on the front." So called because it was originally pinned to a dress front. Later a fashion garment for women (c. 1900).

Related entries & more 
dashboard (n.)

also dash-board, 1846, "board or leather apron in front of a carriage to stop mud from being splashed ('dashed') into the vehicle by the horse's hoofs," from dash (v.) + board (n.1). Of motor vehicles, "panel under the windshield, on which control panels and gauges are mounted,” by 1904. Except for the situation relative to the front seat, it has nothing in common with the original.

Related entries & more 
brat (n.)

c. 1500, "beggar's child" ("... wyle beggar with thy brattis ...), from a northern, Midlands and western England dialect word for "makeshift or ragged garment;" probably the same word as Old English bratt "cloak," which is from a Celtic source (compare Old Irish bratt "cloak, cloth"). The transferred meaning is perhaps from the notion of "child's apron." Hollywood Brat Pack (modeled on 1950s Rat Pack) is from 1985. Brattery "nursery" is attested from 1788.

Related entries & more 
dicky (n.)

also dickie, dickey, a diminutive form of dick, used in a variety of senses whose origin, application, and connection are more or less obscure. These include: "detached shirt front worn in place of a shirt" (1811); "a leather apron" (1874); "a donkey" (1793); "a small bird," (1851, short for dicky-bird, a nursery-word attested from 1781); "seat in a carriage on which the driver sits" (1801). For at least the garment senses Century Dictionary suggests Dutch dek "a cover, a horse-cloth."

Related entries & more 
shirt (n.)

Middle English shirt, shirte, "garment for the upper body worn next to the skin," from Old English scyrte, from Proto-Germanic *skurtjon "a short garment" (source also of Old Norse skyrta, Swedish skjorta "skirt, kirtle;" Middle Dutch scorte, Dutch schort "apron;" Middle Low German schörte, Middle High German schurz, German Schurz "apron"), which is perhaps related to Old English scort, sceort "short," etc., from PIE root *sker- (1) "to cut," on the notion of "a cut piece."

OED notes that "the meaning of the word in OE. is obscure, as the only instance of its occurrence is a gloss in which the meaning of the Latin word was probably not understood." Lithuanian šarkas "shirt," Old Church Slavonic sraka "tunic," Russian soročka, Finnish sarkki "shirt" perhaps are from Germanic.

Formerly of the chief under-garment worn by both men and women, but in modern use it has long been only that for men; in reference to women's tops, the word was reintroduced 1896.

Bloody shirt, a blood-stained shirt exposed as a symbol of some outrage, to arouse indignation or resentment, is attested from 1580s, usually figurative. Shirt since late 14c. often has been figurative of one's goods or possessions, hence give (someone) the shirt off one's back (1771); lose one's shirt "suffer total financial loss" (1935). To keep one's shirt on "be patient" (1904) is from the notion of (not) stripping down for a fight.

Related entries & more