As a (procrastinating) writer, I am prone to considering pointless and tangential topics. Hence, my thoughts this morning:

What is it with the word, “won’t?” A contraction of “will not,” shouldn’t it be “willn’t?”

I will, or I won’t. I wo, or I won’t? It just doesn’t make sense. If it were short for “would not,” wouldn’t there be two apostrophes, as in wo’n’t? But we already have “wouldn’t,” so that’s not it.

I looked it up in the dictionary on my laptop (The New Oxford American Dictionary), and got the response, “No entries found. Did you mean wont?”

No, but I looked that up, anyway:



he was wont to arise at 5:30 accustomed, used, given, inclined.


Paul drove fast, as was his wont custom, habit, way, practice, convention, rule

Not what I was after. Where do you look up a contraction? I surfed the web, using the keywords “will not,” “etymology,” and “won’t.”

The first hit was the Online Etymology Dictionary, which said:


contraction of will not, first recorded mid-15c. as wynnot, later wonnot (1584) before the modern form emerged 1667. See will.

I did:

will (v.)

O.E. *willan, wyllan “to wish, desire, want” (past tense wolde), from P.Gmc. *welljan (cf. O.S. willian, O.N. vilja, O.Fris. willa, Du. willen, O.H.G. wellan, Ger. wollen, Goth. wiljan “to will, wish, desire,” Goth. waljan “to choose”), from PIE *wel-/*wol- “be pleasing” (cf. Skt. vrnoti “chooses, prefers,” varyah “to be chosen, eligible, excellent,” varanam “choosing;” Avestan verenav- “to wish, will, choose;” Gk. elpis “hope;” L. volo, velle “to wish, will, desire;” O.C.S. voljo, voliti “to will,” veljo, veleti “to command;” Lith. velyti “to wish, favor,” pa-vel-mi “I will,” viliuos “I hope;” Welsh gwell “better”). Cf. also O.E. wel “well,” lit. “according to one’s wish;” wela “well-being, riches.” The use as a future auxiliary was already developing in O.E. The implication of intention or volition distinguishes it from shall, which expresses or implies obligation or necessity. Contracted forms, especially after pronouns, began to appear 16c., as in sheele for “she will.” The form with an apostrophe is from 17c.

will (n.)

O.E. will, willa, from P.Gmc. *weljon (cf. O.S. willio, O.N. vili, O.Fris. willa, Du. wil, O.H.G. willio, Ger. wille, Goth. wilja “will”), related to *willan “to wish” (see will (v.)). The meaning “written document expressing a person’s wishes about disposition of property after death” is first recorded c.1380.

That’s that, I guess.

Why didn’t they just stick with wyllen? I like that a lot better…


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