Several European languages have (false?) cognate adverbs with the meaning of 'nevertheless' (and 'nonetheless') built from words meaning "nothing/not/none/no" and "less".

despite something that you have just mentioned

What semantic notions underlie their original ("nothing/never the less") and contemporary (similar to that of English 'nevertheless' above)?

French has 'néanmoins' and had (now obsolete) neantmoins.

Etymology: néant (“nothing”) +‎ moins (“less”)

Italian has 'nondimeno'

From non +‎ di +‎ meno.

Dutch's niettemin and German's 'nichtsdestoweniger' are calques from Latin.

From niet (“not”) +‎ te (“too”) +‎ min (“insignificant, less(er), small(er)”), calque of Latin nihilōminus.

Loan translation of Latin nihilōminus.

  • Please post your English etymology questions at English Language & Usage. – curiousdannii Aug 13 '19 at 0:47
  • The trouble is that it's such an obvious and tiny shift that you will never be able to tell where it has been calqued from another language and where it has arisen in parallel. – user23078 Aug 13 '19 at 5:05
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    @curiousdannii "Arbitrary meaning changes" : How do you know this is arbitrary? – NNOX Apps Aug 13 '19 at 7:49
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    There is a potentially interesting question about the origins of words like nevertheless (and whether they are calques, independent developments, or stem from a common ancestor). However, it is unclear to me what the quote "despite something that you have just mentioned" has to do with it. "Nevertheless" and "despite" are not interchangeable (so I also don't understand the title). – Keelan Aug 13 '19 at 10:59
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    I'm voting to reopen this question. While it may not be considered a good question for this site (as shown by the downvotes), it doesn't seem to be about language-specific grammar and usage—it's asking if there's an underlying reason for the same shift happening in several different languages, which can be answered within the scope of this site. – Draconis Aug 14 '19 at 19:54

First of all, I'd suggest looking at "nonetheless" rather than "nevertheless": "never" in this case is being used as an intense negative (it's a somewhat archaic/regional thing nowadays, but survives in "well I never!") instead of as "not ever". Something something Jespersen's cycle.

That said, the oldest attested construction like this seems to be Latin nihilō minus: literally "less" (minus) + "by nothing" (nihilō). The original meaning is something like "not decreased/lessened at all".

This literal meaning is found in Cicero (Pro Milone 19), for example:

minus dolendum fuit rē non perfectā, sed puniendum certe nihilō minus
There should certainly be less grieving, since the action wasn't actually completed—but it deserves to be punished not any less [severely].

In other words, the punishment should not be lesser, just because the crime wasn't actually committed.

It's only a small leap from this to the modern idiom:

But [an incomplete crime] deserves to be punished nonetheless.

Since the English, French, and so on all line up so well with the Latin, I postulate that they're all calques from the Latin. The written record doesn't give much evidence one way or another, but the fact that they all follow the Latin word order is telling.

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    To whoever downvoted: is there something wrong with this answer? – Draconis Aug 22 '19 at 21:39
  • I didn't downvote. – NNOX Apps Sep 2 '19 at 4:32

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