Etymology
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Words related to notch

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.

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nock (n.)

"a notch," specifically, in archery, "the notch on the horn of a bow," where the string is fastened, also "notch on the end of an arrow," which rests on the string, late 14c., nokke, a word of uncertain origin, probably from a Scandinavian source (such as Swedish nock "notch"), or a continental Germanic one such as Low German nokk, Middle Dutch nocke, Dutch nok "tip of a sail" or other similar words denoting projections or tips. Perhaps connected to nook.

score (n.)

late Old English scoru "twenty," from Old Norse skor "mark, notch, incision; a rift in rock," also, in Icelandic, "twenty," from Proto-Germanic *skur-, from PIE root *sker- (1) "to cut."

The notion probably is of counting large numbers (of a passing flock of sheep, etc.) by making a notch in a stick for each 20. The prehistoric sense of the Germanic word, then, likely was "straight mark like a scratch, line drawn by a sharp instrument." That way of counting, called vigesimalism, is widespread and also exists in France and left its trace in the language: In Old French, "twenty" (vint) or a multiple of it could be used as a base, as in vint et doze ("32"), dous vinz et diz ("50"). Vigesimalism was or is a feature of Welsh, Irish, Gaelic and Breton (as well as non-IE Basque), and it is speculated that the English and the French learned it from the Celts. Compare tally (n.).

By early 13c. it is attested in the sense of "a financial record" (perhaps one kept by tallies), and it is attested from early 14c. as "reckoning, total amount." The specific sense of "a reckoning or account kept by means of tallies" is clearly attested by c. 1400, especially (1590s) "mark made (by chalk, on a taproom door, etc.) to keep count of a customer's drinks."

This was extended by c. 1600 to "amount due, one's debt," and by 1670s to "mark made for purpose of recording a point in a game or match," and thus "aggregate of points made by contestants in certain games and matches" (1742, in whist).

The sporting score-card is by 1877 (in cricket). The newspaper sports section score line is by 1965. Score-keeping in sports is by 1905. From the tavern-keeping sense comes the meaning "amount on an innkeeper's bill" (c. 1600) and thus the figurative verbal expression settle scores (1775; as cut scores, 1610s).

Meaning "printed piece of music" is recorded by 1701, said to be from the practice of connecting related staves by scores (in the "line drawn" sense). Especially "music composed for a film" (1927). In underworld slang, "money obtained in a crime," 1914. Meaning "an act of obtaining narcotic drugs" is by 1951.

The meaning "a cut, notch, scratch or line made by a sharp instrument," without reference to counting, is attested from c. 1400. By c. 1600 as "a line drawn."

tally (n.)

mid-15c., "stick marked with notches to indicate amount owed or paid," from Anglo-French tallie (early 14c., Old French taille "notch in a piece of wood signifying a debt"), Anglo-Latin talea (late 12c.), from Medieval Latin tallia, from Latin talea "a cutting, rod, stick" (see tailor (n.), and compare sense history of score). Meaning "a thing that matches another" first recorded 1650s, from practice of splitting a tally lengthwise across the notches, debtor and creditor each retaining one of the halves; the usual method of keeping accounts before writing became general (the size of the notches varied with the amount). Sports sense of "a total score" is from 1856. Also in 19c. British provincial verbal expression live tally, make a tally bargain "live as husband and wife without marrying."

top-notch (adj.)

also top notch, "best quality, most stylish," 1840, something of a vogue phrase about 1841, from top (adj.) + notch (n.). Figurative of the "highest point" of something, but the exact mechanical image is uncertain and never seems to be mentioned. At the time it was the name of a part in umbrella patents.

If a young blade drives his vehicle so as to pass others who are in his party, he is said to "tip them the go by."—If his dress consists of articles which are "all the rage," he is "quite the top notch." It is remarkable that these and similar phrases are most in use among people who claim distinction in the fashionable world. [Boston Weekly Magazine, June 12, 1841]
Malgre the dislike of others to an extensive cultivation of cranial shrubbery, I consider long hair an honor unto a man, his glory and his charm. The beauty of the willow is its branches. Deprived of these and all its gracefulness has departed. The tassel of some vegetables is the top notch of their loveliness. ["Long Hair" in Rural Repository (Hudson, N.Y.), July 18, 1840]