Definition of nary
- I must have it back as I have nary other copy
- —Flannery O'Connor
- survived the accident with nary a scratch
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Nary, often used in the phrase "nary a" to mean "not a single," is an 18th century alteration of the adjectival phrase "ne'er a," in which "ne'er" is a contraction of "never." That contraction dates to the 13th century, and the word it abbreviates is even older: "never" can be traced back to Old English "nǽ fre," a combination of "ne" ("not" or "no") and "ǽfre" ("ever"). Old English "ne" also combined with "ā" ("always") to give us "nā," the Old English ancestor of our "no." "Ā," from the Latin aevum ("age" or "lifetime") and Greek aiōn ("age"), is related to the English adverb aye, meaning "always, continually, or ever. This "aye" (pronounced to rhyme with "say") is unrelated to the more familiar "aye" (pronounced to rhyme with "sigh") used as a synonym of "yes."
First Known Use: 1848See Words from the same year
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