?'weakling, mean person' (Modern English ?niggard)


The identification of <nekard> (D MS <neker>) at WA 1742 ('And slike a nekard as þi selfe, a noʒt of all othire') is contested. Skeat WA and MED identify it with ME nigard 'stingy person, miser', assuming an otherwise unattested sense 'contemptible person, weakling'. Scandinavian words provide the best comparanda for nigard (formed within English on nig) although no direct ON etymon has been preserved. Compare the rare OIcel hnøggr 'stingy' and the nickname hnøggvan(d)baugi 'ring miser'. The root < PGmc *xnaww- (cp. OE hnēaw (adj.) 'nigardly, miserly, stingy', WFris nau 'narrow', MLG nouwe 'narrow', MDu nauwe 'tight, precise', MHG ge-nou 'careful, thorough') exhibits Verschärfung. As TPD (1866n) point out, however, in the context of the line 'all that can be said with confidence is that the word is a term of belittlement'. The D MS variant and the unusual sense both cast some doubt on the proposed connection with the ON adj., although it is the only plausible suggestion which has been offered to explain this word. OED3 expresses this uncertainty by giving a separate entry for nekard, noting only as a possibility that it is a variant of niggard.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

cp. hnøggr (adj.)
(ONP hnøggr (2) (adj.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far nøggur, Icel hnøggur, Norw nøgg, Dan nygger, Sw njugg, Sw dial nagg, nägg

OE Cognate

cp. hnēaw (adj.) 'nigardly, miserly, stingy; (sb.) miser'

Phonological and morphological markers

[Sharpening of ON /ggw/ < PGmc */ww/] (may not be applicable)

Summary category



Attested from a variety of ME texts from the late 14c. onwards, incl. Chaucer and Gower.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

WA 1742

The D MS reading <neker> at WA 1742 has not been satisfactorily explained.


MED nigard (n.) , OED3 nekard (n.) , HTOED , Bj. 34, de Vries hnøggr (1), Mag. hnøggur (1), Orel *xnawwuz, Kroonen *hnawwu-, DOE hnēaw, AEW hnēaw