People have always wanted news. In ancient times, runners on foot carried news from town to town. Bellmen (town criers) walked the streets proclaiming announcements, etc. After the invention of the printing press, newspapers quickly sprang up in the wake of any new settlement.
The Bible mentions news: “As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Proverbs 25:4).
Once, small craft intercepted passing ships to receive and deliver news, but wireless and cable supplanted “newsboats” years ago.
But the thirst for news has never ended.
News, a plural noun, takes a singular verb, although for more than 200 years, this word was often accompanied by a plural verb. In King Henry VI, Part 2, Shakespeare’s Queen Margaret says, “Ay me! what is this world! What news are these?”
Other famous writers also employed news as a true plural. John Dryden wrote: “The amazing news of Charles at once were spread.” Shelley said, “There are bad news from Palermo.”
Even so, Milton, writing even earlier than Dryden and Shelley, used news as it’s used today.
Newspaper lore tells of an editor who insisted news was plural. He’d arrive daily and greet his staff with, “How are the news today?”
Then, one day, he asked, “Are there good news today?”
Someone quipped, “No. Not a single new.”
Although widely believed to be so, the word news is not an acronym for north, east, west, south. Linguists don’t understand how such a word myth ever arose since north, east, west, south, isn’t the way we list the compass’ four cardinal points. More importantly, news was spelled newes for centuries.
Besides, we know where this word came from. It’s a translation of the Medieval Latin, nova, and the Old French, novelles (nouvelles). Both words mean, “something new.”
News entered Middle English in the 15th century as newes, plural of newe (something not heard before). News, spelled news, was first used in print in 1551 and, by 1566, was construed as singular (OED).
News attaches itself to several terms in daily use, for example, newscast, newspaper, newsprint, newsstand, newsletter, news release, newsworthy, news agency, and newsy.
We might think that newsletter is a fairly recent addition to our language. Not so. It was first used in 1674 when it referred to letters delivered by couriers on foot.
It goes without saying that news is part of many everyday expressions: “Break the news,” “It’s news to me,” “In the news,” “I’ve got good news and bad news.”
“No news is good news,” is an English proverb from the 17th century. “Bad news travels fast,” also an English proverb, is dated to the 16th century.
Sophocles (496-406 BC) said, “Nobody likes the bringer of bad news.” Shakespeare reworded this to, “The first bringer of bad news hath but a losing office”(Henry IV, Part 2).
Here’s a timely quote from Dutch broadcaster, Frank Dane: “The news of any politician’s death should be listed under ‘public improvements.’ “