March 24, 2007

nonce, nonce word

nonce (nons) n. The present or particular occasion
"Her tendency to discover a touch of sadness had for the nonce disappeared" (Theodore Dreiser). [From Middle English for the nones, for the occasion].--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000.

nonce word
n. A word occurring, invented, or used just for a particular occasion; or example, the word mileconsuming in "the wagon beginning to fall into its slow and mileconsuming clatter" (William Faulkner).--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000.


"The term nonce-word was adopted in the preparation of the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] (1884) "to describe a word which is apparently used only for the nonce." . . . . Because of the special functions, ephemerality, and even eccentricity of such usages, it is not easy to exemplify them. . . . .

"[A recent nonce occurrence, however, is] the noun Excaliburger, for a hamburger sold at Tintagel in Cornwall, a site associated with the legendary King Arthur, whose sword was called Excalibur. Although nonce forms are coined for the occasion and many never occur again or be used in another context, they sometimes become regular, widely used words, as with mob in the early 18c, clipped from Latin mobile vulgus (the fickle crowd)".--McArthur, Tom, Ed. The Oxford Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford, 1992 (702).


"If you think of anything useful about Delroy, or anything else, I'm at the Holiday Inn for the nonce," I [Spenser] said.
"The what?"
"Nonce. But you can always leave a message on my answering machine in Boston."
"I'd just as soon our conversation was private," Mickey said.
"Me too," I said. "Mum's the word."
"Not nonce?"
"Mum," I said.
"You talk really funny," Mickey said.
"It's a gift." I said.--Parker, Robert B. Hugger Mugger. New York: Putnam, 2000 (243-440).

Be careful using nonce in England. Over there it works also as "a slang term for a deviant, a sex offender, . . . a pedophile." The excellent online Urban Dictionary of Slang notes that "[t]he term comes from the acronym NONCE, UK prison classification for prisoners deemed at risk from attack from other 'regular' prisoners because of the sexual nature of their crimes. NONCE = N ot - O n - N ormal - C ourtyard - E xercise.
Nonce is also
"a common British insult - generally equivalent to wanker [masturbator], twat [vagina]."
The Urban Dictionary adds thirteen more definitions of nonce, each carrying a pejorative nuance of verbal or sexual abuse.

Originally, this weblog was titled "Worthy Words." But after a while, I decided to invert the words to "Words Worthy" and follow that with the subtitle "Words Worthy of Their Own Weblog," later switching to the present motto, "Words Worthy of Note for the Careful Reader and Writer."

Though the title "Words Worthy" may not register as a bon mot, it does register with me as a bona fide nonce word, at least for the nonce--i.e., until I am notified by some "nonceteur" [non-si-TOUR']--my nonce word for a "nonce inventor"--that he or she had put the term into use prior to this site's starting date, Jan. 1, 2007.

And that, dear reader, is "Words Worthy," for the nonce.--B'n'J'


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