The Word “News” Does Not Derive from the Four Cardinal Directions (North, East, West, South)

Myth: the word “news” derives from the four cardinal directions.

While this potential origin of the word news seems plausible enough, it isn’t true.  The truth is, the word news can be traced back to late Middle English around the 14th century as a plural for the adjective “new” or “new thing”.  This is a somewhat rare instance of an English adjective becoming a noun when made plural.   Making this leap from “new” to “news” in English is thought to have been influenced by the Old French “nouveau”, meaning “new”.  “Nouveau” in its plural feminine form becomes the noun “nouvelles”, meaning “news”.

Before the 14th century, instead of using the word “news”, English speakers typically used the word “tidings”, more or less meaning the “announcement of an event”.  This Middle English version started before the 11th century and stems from the Old English term “tidung” meaning “Event, occurrence, or a piece of news”.

Bonus Facts:

  • According to USA Today, the top ten news stories of the past 25 years are (disclaimer: heavily biased towards U.S. related news):
    1. The “fall of communism” in 1989, with the destruction of the Berlin wall.
    2. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on The World Trade Center.
    3. The Iraq War starting in 2003.
    4. Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans.
    5. The OJ Simpson trial in 1994-1995.
    6. The 2000 Presidential election that took 5 weeks to reveal a winner.
    7. The Clinton impeachment in 1999.
    8. The Afghanistan invasion of 2001.
    9. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
    10. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
  • The Chernobyl disaster was a result of a lot of idiocy, rather than an actual failure in design or engineering.  It was a case where one of the reactors was intentionally put in about the worst possible state it could be in, all the while the operators ignoring all the warnings and overriding many of the automated safety systems.  It was actually a testament to the safety systems that the reactor they were messing with lasted as long as it did with what they were doing with it.  Even after the explosions, the workers who were managing the reactor next to the exploded one were told to keep the other reactors online and continue to work.  The mistakes didn’t stop there though, the exploded reactor crew chief, Alexander Akimov, assumed the reactor was still intact, despite all the graphite and reactor fuel lying around the building after the explosions.  So he kept everyone working throughout the night on the exploded reactor core which cost many workers, including Akimov, their lives.
  • One of the problems in not recognizing the danger was that, of the two dosimeters capable of measuring the radiation levels they were experiencing, one was inaccessible and the other failed to turn on.   All the other meters couldn’t read that high; indeed, they didn’t read very high at all, so they only knew the radiation levels were somewhere above 3.6 rems per hour, which is a relatively high rate, but certainly not going to kill anyone working there for a shift.  When they eventually brought a meter in that could read the correct levels, Akimov assumed it must be malfunctioning because of the extreme high readings they were getting.  Once again, you’d think the nuclear fuel and graphite lying around the building and the two explosions would have tipped him off, but here we are.  In his defense, at around 5000 rems, the brain begins to be damaged with the radiation killing nerves and small blood vessels.  He wasn’t likely experiencing these levels where he was working, but lower high levels, while not causing brain damage, will cause memory problems; confusion; information processing ability problems; and decline in cognition.  So that may have played a role in his poor decisions after the explosions.
  • The next mistake was with the rescue crews that arrived on scene.  Many of them knew nothing of radiation and some even directly handled some of the radioactive debris lying around that was emitting as much as 15,000 rems per hour.   The mistakes didn’t end there and, in the end, an estimated 60,000 people were exposed to high levels of radiation; of which, about 5,000 people died within five years of the explosion from problems stemming from radiation exposure.  Note to self: when working at a nuclear reactor and there are a bagillion warning lights going off over the course of a few hours telling you to stop doing what you are doing, maybe you should think about not overriding said warnings and maybe, instead, stop what you are doing.  I’m just throwing that out there.
  • Firefighters on scene at Chernobyl described the radiation as “tasting like metal” and feeling sensations of “pins and needles” all over their skin.
  • The Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe, caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan, was rated as a level 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which is the highest rating.  To date, the only other event given this rating was Chernobyl.
  • The 7 levels on the INES are:  level 1- Anomaly 2- Incident 3- Serious incident 4- Accident with local consequences 5- Accident with wider consequences 6- Serious accident  7- Major accident.
  • Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant accident near Middletown, Pennsylvania, is the most serious power plant accident in U.S. History. It led to no deaths and no injuries to plant workers or the nearby community. It was still rated a level 5 on the INES, even though it really should have just been rated a level 2. If you camped out at the plant at Three Mile Island during the accident that happened there in 1979, you’d have received only an additional 80 millirems of exposure during the duration of the accident.  For reference, if you’ve ever had your spine x-rayed, you’d have received about double that just during the few seconds of the x-ray.  If you were around ten miles away from the reactor during the accident, you’d have received about 8 millirems or about the equivalent ionizing radiation of eating 800 bananas.  There are no known deaths/cancers/etc. that resulted from this event.
  • Public reaction to Three Mile Island went extremely overboard from what the actual event warranted.  This was largely due to misinformation in the press; misunderstanding of ionizing radiation among the general public; and the fact that, not 12 days before it happened, the movie The China Syndrome was released.  The plot of the movie was how unsafe nuclear reactors were and just about everyone in the movie but one of the main characters was trying to cover it up.  The China Syndrome movie title’s concept comes from the premise that if an American nuclear reactor core were to melt down, it would melt through the center of the Earth to China.  Getting around the fact that it is actually the Indian Ocean that is on the opposite side of the Earth from the U.S. and the obvious problems with the “melt through the Earth” premise, it couldn’t have been a better timed movie as far as free advertisement through the press due to the Three Mile Island incident. The movie was nominated for several academy awards, including best actress by Jane Fonda.
  • The top 5 most widely circulated newspapers in the world all come from Japan. This is followed by Bild in Germany, then News of the World, and The Sun in the United Kingdom.
  • The most widely circulated newspaper in the United States is USA Today. It ranks 11th world wide, followed by The Wallstreet Journal at number 19, and then The New York Times at 27th world wide.
  • The first news-worthy event, in our universe, comes in the form of the Big Bang. This all encompassing cosmological theory is the most widely accepted explanation of how our universe was formed and is backed by a considerable amount of evidence. Extremely simply put, it states that at about 10 -36 seconds after the Big Bang, our universe began to rapidly expand. This hot environment has been expanding and cooling ever since. The resulting four known fundamental forces then formed the reality we know it today. (We will not talk here about the many complexities that exist, when it comes to our fundamental forces.  Just know there is no known accepted theory that links all four, and there are many many holes in the specifics of one:  so don’t hold too fast to your seat, gravity might just take a turn for the worse soon with it being possibly not a fundamental force in and of itself, but a byproduct of something else.)
  • There are numerous theories about the causal factor of the Big Bang, and subsequently what the universe was like before 10-36 seconds after the incident.  The universe before this time period does not follow with any known physics. There are also many theories as to how the universe will come to an end. Assuming our universe continues to unfold as current physics understands, and the limitations of the big bang are explained, there are a few accepted thought processes: there is “The Big Freeze”, in which the universe expands and cools to the point it dies out; “The Big Rip” in which the universe is ripped apart by dark energy;  “The Big Crunch”, in which the universe is will retract back in on itself and return back to a singularity; and “The Heat Death of the Universe”, in which the universe ultimately will no longer be able to support any motion or life due to the temperature differences being such that no work can be performed (maximum entropy).
  • Arguably the first controversial news-worthy story involving the planet Earth comes in the form of what our atmosphere was made of. This is extremely important to science today given that the early atmosphere is what set the stage for how life formed on our planet. For the last several decades most scientists believed the Earth’s atmosphere in the early days was lacking in large amounts of oxygen, instead being filled with methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and other noxious gases. This misguided thought lead to many different theories about how life we know today could have evolved from this madness. On December 1st of 2011, in the journal “Nature”, scientists showed that the early atmosphere of our planet was more like the atmosphere we have today. It was filled with oxygen-rich compounds like water, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. These new findings do not seem to run contrary to how we believe life evolved from anaerobic to aerobic organisms. Bruce Watson, one of the scientists involved in the research, states, “We can now say with some certainty that many scientists studying the origins of life on Earth simply picked the wrong atmosphere”.
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  • Nouvelles is the plural form of nouveau (in French all adjectives must agree with the noun’s gender and plural/singular), but “l’information” means news, such as a news show on TV, and “journal” means a newspaper.

  • correction to Ellie’s comment. nouveaux should be the plural masculine. nouvelles is plural to feminine only and nouvel is the singular to feminine.

    • I must correct myself: Nouvelle is feminine singular. Nouvel would be masculine singular when it is followed by a word that begins with a vowel.

  • “Nouveau” or “nouvelles” are not Old French. Both are still in use. Fun fact though : the english word “news” is usually prefered when it comes to TV or Newspaper. “Nouvelles” is more used in the sense of “update” about something.
    « Tu as des nouvelles de ton entretien d’embauche ? » : “Have you heard back from your job interview ?”.

  • What differentiates “The Big Freeze” from “The Heat Death of the Universe”?

  • The presumption that the word news is NOT an acronym, is false. In fact it’s probably one of if not the oldest words in human history. Though the technical term wad derived and used from the 14th century meaning “new things”, the book of Ecclesiastes in the bible state’s: That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, “see this is new”? Already it has existed for ages which were before us. Ecclesiastes 1:9&10…it is defined as “all events accuring in the North, East, West and South. That is How Almighty God had ordained it.