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nonce

Printable Version Pronunciation: nahns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: The present moment, one particular time, place or application, not enduring or repeated. (Beware the British slang usage of this word to refer to a sex offender.)

Notes: Today's Good Word originated in an Old English phrase that has survived until today: for the nonce "at this time". Linguists use it in the phrase "a nonce word", referring to a word that applies at only one time for one particular reason. Sometimes they stick around for a while, as did truthiness, but nonce words usually do not ingrain themselves into our vocabulary. Now computer programmers are using nonce numbers, a code that is assigned only once during computer security processing.

In Play: Our sharp-eyed readers often spot nonce words and bring them to our attention since nonce words usually are attention-grabbers. Derrick Vaughan spotted the nonce word dunkadelic, an adjective referring to those basketball players who show off when they dunk the ball through the net. A nonce word. However, some nonce words sometimes survive. Chris Petrella reported this snippet heard in 2007, "Hey listen, Jack just buttdialed me and he's yelling at his dog!" Here buttdialing refers to accidentally speed-dialing someone. So far, it has survived.

Word History: Today's word is a reduction of the Middle English phrase, for then anes "for the one "thing", from Old English "to tham anum". So, despite its looks, nonce does not come from once, even though the meaning suggests this. This is, however, a mondegreen based on a reanalysis of the phrase in which the N from then migrated to the anes. There is nothing unusual about Old English an, which became one and a(n) in Modern English. It comes from the same source as French un, German ein, Russian odin, Latin unus, and Italian and Spanish uno. (Let us thank Jeff Beard of Boulder, Colorado, for the nonce and onward for suggesting today's persistent Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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