'refuse, reject'

(Modern English )


The sense of this v. 'refuse' is clear in context and the form is a compound of OE wiþ + ME neien, but two different etyma, or some combination of the two, have been cited: (1) It could be derived from Fr, (a) either via the ME v. neien, which is usually derived from AFr naier (etc.) < OFr nier 'to denounce, deny, refuse' < classical Lat negāre (thus OED3) or (b) OFr reneier (etc.) 'to deny, renounce, repudiate' < post-classical Lat renegare, with OE wiþ substituted for re- (EVG). (2) The v. could instead be derived from ME nai (adv.) < ME nai (interj.), which derives from ON, cp. OIcel nei 'no' < PGmc *ni-aiw- (cp. OE , OFris , , OS, OHG neo, nio, MLG ); see further nay. This source is favoured by McGee (see further 381-3) and Goll, though the latter adds that the formation was 'perhaps … on analogy with' deneien < OFr deneier 'to deny'. In practice it is very hard to rule out some input from both ON and OFr. MED cites both (1a) and (2) as sources of the ME v neien, while OED3 notes that in later (esp. MnE) use it was 'probably reinforced by association with' or derived from (2). 

PGmc Ancestor

(2) *ni-aiw-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2) cp. nei (interj.) 'no'
(ONP )

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

OE Cognate

(2) cp. (adj.) 'not, 'no', not at all, never'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Apart from Pe, cited by MED and OED from only a handful of 15c. texts, a1450(c1410) Lovel.Merlin (Corp-C 80), c1460 Dub.Abraham (Dub 432), ?c1450 Brut-1447 (Trin-C O.9.1) and (?1440) Palladius (DukeH d.2).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Pe 916

Holthausen (1923: 136) suggests emendation to wythsay.


MED withnaien (v.) , HTOED (1a) OED3 nay (v.) , DEAF noiier; (1b) OED3 renay (v.) , DEAF renoiier; (2) MED nai (interj.) , OED nay (adv.1 and n.) , Dance nay, Bj. 47-8, de Vries nei, Mag. nei, AEW n-ā