Sunday, April 26, 2009

Who Is the What?

This week I get to make good on something I learned twelve years ago. During my freshman year of high school, I took my first-ever Latin course. Each chapter of our textbook ended with well-intentioned but ultimately useless facts about Latin. (“Did you know that the months of July and August take their names from names of Julius Caesar and his son, Augustus? Did you?”) However, one always stuck out to me, and I’ve never made much use of it until now.
quidnunc (KWID-nunk) — noun: a busybody.
The etymology as simple: quid, the Latin word for “what,” plus nunc, the Latin word for “now.” Literally interpreted, quidnunc means “what now” — as in “What now, Ethel the Gossip?”

russian for “ssh!”

The word also appears in Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Book of Words, where it is noted also having been used for a time to mean “politician,” the implications of which should not escape the notice of anyone who’s had reason to speak with an elected official worried about his chances of being re-elected.

Quidnunc beat out a whole host of strange “Q” words, including the utterly inexplicable qhythsontyd, which is allegedly an out-of-use representation for the word Whitsunday in some language where people spell however they want.

Previous words of the week:


  1. I must know more about qhythsontyd. It's not in the OED. But the entry for Whitsunday lists the spelling qvhissonday in a citation from 1398, back when spelling was interesting.

  2. For sure. Was it that English spelling just went by different rules back then or was it more of a free-for-all? Is this the same reason that Shakespeare spelled his name so many different ways was that too much later to result from the same factors?