While looking for the origin of the the suffix of terms like underneath and beneath I’ve found that it derives from “neoðan "below, down, from below," from Proto-Germanic niþar "lower, farther down, down" from which the current term “nether

“Nether” appears to be an uncommon term, but dictionaries seem to contradict each other about its usage:

Collins Dictionary describe “nether” as “old fashioned”,

Cambridge Dictionary defines its usage as “humorous”, while

M-W doesn’t mention any specific issue and shows a number of current usage examples.

Google Books appears to suggest that the term usage is not significantly lower than a century ago, so what is the exact current usage of “nether”?

Is it just literary or formal? Does it have humorous connotations? Is it actually old-fashioned as suggested above?

  • 3
    It's "humorous" precisely because it's "old-fashioned*. Most likely if you analyse the hits in Google Books and compare recent instances with those from a century ago you'll find that a relatively high proportion of the more recent ones are for the collocation nether regions - usually a facetious / euphemistic alternative to private parts (i.e. - the pubic area). Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 18:27
  • ...see this NGram, which appears to confirm my suspicions. Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 18:28
  • @FumbleFingers - so “nether regions” sounds funnier than “lower regions” referring to private parts.
    – user 66974
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 18:47
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    In Victorian times, some English people were so prudish that trousers were referred to as 'nether garments'. I have seen 'nether region' used to mean 'hell'. Wikipedia helpfully reminds us not to confuse that phrase with 'Netherlands'. Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 18:51
  • The Netherlands are, however, a valid example of the use of nether. They are low-lying and similar terms using different words are used for approximately the same region, such as the Low Countries. This is discussed in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_Countries . There are also several place-names in England, often contrasted with Upper or similar terms. For example, Nether Wallop en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nether_Wallop contrasted with Over Wallop and Middle Wallop. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


It is literary and tends to be used only in certain expressions.

The iWeb corpus has only 5 030 instances of "nether + noun", of which more than half are "nether world", "nether region(s)" or "nether portal".

Contrast this with 1 218 129 instances of "lower + noun".


nether vocabulary.com Now chiefly literary. Sometimes humorous. It is still used. Usually not used formally. Quaintly old-fashioned!

The nether part of something is the lowest part of it, the bottom. If you’re having, ahem, trouble in the toilet, you might want to go talk to the doc about your nether parts.

You might find the word nether in old books where "the nether world" could mean the world under the earth’s surface, like in Dante’s Inferno where he travels through hell, under the earth, before climbing up to paradise in the heavens. If you look closely you can hear the word nether in the word we normally use now: beneath.

lower “gnawed his nether lip”

located below or beneath something else “nether garments”

low literal meanings; being at or having a relatively small elevation or upward extension

dwelling beneath the surface of the earth “nether regions”

infernal being of the underworld

As in:

1986 R. M. Sunter Patronage Politics in Scotl. ... in the Nether-ward of Lanarkshire.


1990 Independent Football is a part of the nether-culture of English life with which its ruling classes are least familiar.


1993 Clothes Show Mag. There have been as many names for knickers over the years as there are styles available in the shops... small clothes; nether garments; long johns, [etc.].


1994 R. Davies Cunning Man All the beauty and diablerie of that great player had been lost, and only the mannerisms—grunting, eye-flashing, and gnawing the nether lip—remained.

and lastly

1992 M. Blonsky Amer. Mythologies The media tell the ancient tale of the city as corrupt and its nether parts as the womb of evil.

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