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haecceity

Printable Version Pronunciation: hæk-see-ê-tee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. That essence of an individual that distinguishes it from all other similar individuals, the "here-and-nowness" of a thing. 2. One of the properties that makes up our haecceity.

Notes: For the past few days we have been exploring the unexpected treasures in rather ordinary words. Today we break that trend with a truly extraordinary word. Unlike quiddity, which makes a thing the type of thing it is (a hothead, a loving mother, a glutton), haecceity, which originally means "thisness", refers to what makes us a specific individual.

In Play: If you have friends who have taken a medieval philosophy course or two, feel free to say things like this around them: "My printer's nature is pretty much that of all others except that printing Rs upside down is a part of its haecceity." However, we should not confuse this word with eccentricity; a haecceity may be perfectly normal: "John Long's travels have left him with a haecceity ill at ease with those of us who have not seen the entire world."

Word History: Today's Good Word was created by a medieval Scholastic philosopher, Duns Scotus (ca. 1266-1308), as a name for his vision of the particular mixture of properties that distinguishes one individual from any other individual. It is based on Latin haec "this" and hence means something like "thisness". He was convinced that we share our nature (or quiddity) with a group of others (see Notes), but not our haecceity, which defines each of us uniquely. The Scholastic scholars of the Middle Ages (around 1100-1500) attempted to create a rational philosophy compatible with historical theology. Today's word has remained a prisoner of philosophy since then. Today, however, we set it free in the general vocabulary. (Apparently the haecceity of Freddie Matthews of Nottingham, England, includes a passion for the lexically exotic, for it was he who not only found but thoughtfully forwarded today's Good Word to us.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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