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'


March 23, 2007


stairwit: n. the English equivalent (coined by Kirkpatrick Sale) for "esprit de l'escalier" which translates to "spirit of the staircase" or "the inspiration gained upon ascending the stairs to retire to bed, long after the opportunity for a retort has passed."
retrotort: n. "the word for any clever remark that comes to mind after the fact
(coined by Bernard Cooper)"--Elster, Charles Harrington. There's a Word for it!: A Grandiloquent Guide to life. New York: Scribners, 1996.

I thought it would be a good good idea to cover a bit the ground surrounding mot juste and bon mot. Thanks to Kirkpatrick Sale we have the term stairwit to describe that moment at home after the party when we say, "Drat! I should have responded to Wanda's bon mot, "Envy me!" with a wink and some sort of retort, even if only: "You Wish!" Too late now. Here I am all alone: just me and my retrotort."


March 21, 2007

mot juste

mot juste (mo zhust') n. pl. mots justes (mo zhust' ) Exactly the right word or expression
[French: mot, word + juste, right]
--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000.

COMMENTS on mot juste
From Tad Tuleja in Foreignisms, pg.84:
Those who "always know just what to say" have an ample store of mot justes: a mot juste is the perfectly appropriate word (or phrase) for a given occasion. It may be a bon mot,* but it need not be; a bon mot at a funeral would probably not be funny. Useful as a disguise in those moments when something is on the tip of your tongue; it's less cliched to say "The mot juste escapes me"--with an air of cavalier insouciance**, of course--than to admit your bewilderment.

*bon mot (boh MOH') FRENCH: witticism Literally "good word."
"If she couldn't make you think, at least she would make you laugh: she had a bon mot ready for every occasion." Don't confuse this with mot juste.--Tad Tuleja in Foreignisms, pg. 26.

**insouciance Noun The cheerful feeling you have when nothing is troubling you.
Date "insouciance" was first used: 1799.
--WordNet 1.7.1 Copyright © 2001 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

Q: What's the difference between yesterday's word
riposte and today's mot juste?
A: The difference lies in circumstances. If during a round of badinage with a friend, you happily one-up your friend with "a sharp, witty response," you have delivered a riposte. If, on the other hand, while you are writing or speaking in a non-competitive setting, you come up with what you consider to be
"exactly the right word or expression," you've just birthed a mot juste.




riposte (ri-post’), n. a sharp, often witty response in speech or action. Also ri-post.
Urdang,Laurence Ed. The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, Mispronounced Words. New York: Weathervane. MCNCXXII.


1: a fencer’s quick return thrust following a parry
2: a retaliatory verbal sally : RETORT
3: a retaliatory maneuver or measure
riposte verb
[F. mod. of I. risposta, literally, answer, F. respondere to respond, F. L.respondere] (1707)
--Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition 2003.

riposte / retort (sharp reply)

A ‘retort’ is a sharp reply; a ‘reposte’ is a reply that is sharp.
In other words, a ‘retort’ is a quick reply, a 'riposte’ a smart or witty one.
Both the nouns are [can be] used as verbs.
--Room, Adrian. Dictionary of Confusing Words and Meanings. New York: Dorset, 1988.

riposte; ripost. /ri-pohst/ ( = a sharp comeback or swift retort) Riposte is the standard spelling. Ripost is a variant to be avoided.
--Garner, Brian A. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. New York: Oxford U.P., 1998.

THE WORD IN USE. Source: Angelica Carter. Shaking a Leg: Collected Journalism and Writings. (1998).

When she told him how much she hated being called an old trout, he'd riposte: "The trout is the most beautiful of fish."

THE WORD IN USE Source:: The National Review, Jan 30, 2006

Unable to think of any satisfactory verbal riposte while in a heated argument with a neighbor, Raymond Hugh McNealy of Germantown, Md., resorted to "mooning," which is to say, contemptuously presenting his bared buttocks to his antagonist. The neighbor sought recourse in the law; Mr. McNealy was convicted of indecent exposure; he appealed; and now his conviction victim has been overturned. Or, as Shakespeare said: "The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured." One of Mr. McNealy's attorneys noted more prosaically that the appeals-court ruling should "bring comfort to all beachgoers and plumbers" in the state. Though we are of course aware that standards of civility in America have long been engaged in a race to the bottom, this incident does not seem to us to rise to a level at which the law needs to butt in. While deploring Mr. McNealy's bad manners, we therefore offer qualified approval to the appeals court's affirmation of a citizen's, er, fundamental rights, and its resistance to the opening up of any further cracks in the edifice of American liberty.

A RIPOSTE posted at the Weblog “Parry, Riposte”: Tuesday, May 31, 2005.

The war continues between the Bush administration and Amnesty International.
Cheney: "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously."

[Reposte from] Amnesty: "He doesn't take torture seriously; he doesn't take the Geneva Convention seriously; he doesn't take due process rights seriously; and he doesn't take international law seriously" either.

Keep in mind:
1. Adrian Room’s assertion that a‘retort’ is a quick reply, a 'riposte’ a smart or witty one." Put another way, retorts are quick but not of necessity witty; ripostes are always witty but not always quick.
2. The most widely used spelling is riposte (with a final e).
3. Riposte can be a noun or a verb.
As noun: "His ironic riposte was “Ooops!”
As verb: "He riposted ironically, “Ooops!”

And this: A good time to hear lively parlays and ripostes is during the guest interviews on Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central, cable t.v.).