What is the etymology of the suffix '-ness'? I have come across it in OE texts but always assumed it was a later borrowing.
This suffix is widespread among the Germanic languages, though it is no longer productive in all:
- English -ness (Old English -nes(s), -nis(s), -nys(s))
- Dutch -nis (Old Dutch -nussi, -nisse, -nesse)
- German -nis (Old High German -nissi, -nessi, -nassi, -nussi)
- Gothic -nassus
There is no consensus yet about why the first vowel varies so widely among the Germanic languages.
The -n- was originally not part of the suffix, but of the stem of many root words that
*-assus was often attached to; it was later stolen by the suffix and became part of it, which already happened in Proto-Germanic.
The -s is probably the nominative ending (my own, reasonable interpretation of the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal).
*-assu- as the basic suffix (the WNT confirms this). It in turn came from
*-ad-tu-: -ad- is a Germanix suffix forming verbs out of adjectives (Gothic -at(j?)-), and -tu- is a suffix forming abstract nominal stems from verbal stems.
The suffix -esse in French (fin-esse etc.) is not directly related: it comes from Latin -itia (fin-itia). The -ia part is probably the common Proto-Indo-European suffix *-ia/ya indicating mass nouns; it is possible that the -(i)t- part is related to Germanic -tu- in
*-ad-tu-, but that seems doubtful.
Oxford Dictionary Online states that it is of Germanic origin:
I think there is a much simpler explanation for "ness". It might simply mean "to carry/contain". In Russian language for example, the word "нести" (nesti) means to carry and a lot of the Slavic words contain this ending (in the form of "nost' since nosit' means to carry as well).
Vernost' (Faithfullness) - to carry 'vera' (faith) Drevnost' - ancient times - to carry antiquity Vechnost (eternity) - to carry a vek/veche (decade) Blagodarnost' (gratitude/kindness) - to carry blagodarstvo (gratitude) Mrachnost' (darkness) - to carry mrak (dark) Duhovnost' (spirituality) - to carry a spirit
Now some English words; goodness, sickness, willingness, business, nest, honest (one who carries honor) I am sure you can come up with many other examples.
On the other hand "less" would mean the exact opposite of "ness" Ex: faithless, godless, fearless, speechless
There might also be a relation to "is-ist-es-est"
I am not a serious etymologist, just wanted to share my observations since I speak both languages.