from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adverb In no way; to no degree. Used to express negation, denial, refusal, or prohibition.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Shaven; shorn; close-cropped; smooth: as, a not head.
  • To shave; shear; poll.
  • A Middle English contraction of ne wot, know not. Also note.
  • A word expressing negation, denial, refusal, or prohibition: as, I will not go; he shall not remain; will you answer? I will not.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • obsolete Wot not; know not; knows not.
  • adjective obsolete Shorn; shaven.
  • adverb A word used to express negation, prohibition, denial, or refusal.
  • adverb [Obs. or Colloq.] only.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adverb Negates the meaning of the modified verb.
  • adverb To no degree
  • conjunction And not.
  • interjection slang Used to indicate that the previous phrase was meant sarcastically or ironically.
  • noun Unary logical function NOT, true if input is false, or a gate implementing that negation function.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adverb negation of a word or group of words


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, alteration of naught, nought; see naught.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English not, nat, variant of noght, naht ("not, nothing"), from Old English *nōht, nāht ("nought, nothing"), short for nōwiht, nāwiht ("nothing", literally "no thing, no creature"), corresponding to  ("no") + wiht ("thing, creature"). Cognate with Scots nat, naucht ("not"), Saterland Frisian nit ("not"), West Frisian net ("not"), Dutch niet ("not"), German nicht ("not"). Compare nought and aught. More at no, wight.


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  • Ton in reverse.

    November 3, 2007

  • Clear thinking from the political science department:

    "I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate."

    -Harold Laski, quoted in "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell.

    Interesting how the meaning clouds up a bit each time "not" appears...

    August 14, 2008

  • Wha.....??

    August 14, 2008

  • Excuse me a moment while I mount my soapbox...

    The placement of the word "not" makes a difference, yet this difference is almost universally ignored. Consider these two hypothetical titles of books:

    "How To Not Eat Dinner"

    "How Not To Eat Dinner"

    They don't mean the same thing. The first sounds like it's about fasting or dieting (avoiding dinner) -- the second sounds like it's about table etiquette (the manner in which you eat dinner).

    I think they're both useful constructions, but I notice that there's a great taboo against the construction "to not". For example, we say "I told you not to come", even though we mean "I told you to not come".

    Isn't this a shame? Such a useful distinction we could have available to us, and we throw it all away, just because we're afraid to split one lousy infinitive.

    January 15, 2009

  • I appreciate your point, Ptero, and I think there are a lot of cases where "to not X" may mean something different from "not to X". In the example of not eating dinner, the two meanings are entirely different ("avoiding dinner" v. "having improper table manners"), but usually a much more subtle is involved: (1) "I told you not to say that!" is different from (2) "I told you to not say that!", where we can imagine that the speaker's original instructions in (1) were simply "do not say this but rather this" and in (2) were more specifically disuasive: "I know you want to say this (or usually would say this, or are expected to say this), but in this case you must not say this." I think this is the same kind of difference as with "I told you not to come" and "I told you to not come" – essentially, this is a difference in the degree of forcefulness of the negative command.

    January 17, 2009