• quiddity •
kwid-ê-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The essence or real nature of a thing, that which makes a thing what it is. 2. Something trivial, unimportant, a quibble.
Notes: Today's odd little word is what some word mavens call a 'contronym', a word with two meanings that contradict each other. On the one hand, it means "that which is essential" while, on the other, it means "that which is trivial, inessential". Remember to change the Y to an I in the plural: quiddities.
In Play: Keeping up with the two opposing meanings of today's word should be no more difficult than keeping up with the meanings of other contronyms, like cleave "stick together or separate" and sanction "approve or disapprove": "April Showers thinks that she has found the quiddity of beauty in her spring flower garden." On the other hand, when April talks about gardening, her conversation tends to collapse into quiddities that are boring and uninteresting.
Word History: This Good Word is an English makeover of Medieval Latin quidditas, a word built on Latin quid "what". The original PIE root, which existed about 6000 years ago, was something like kwo-, a general interrogative pronoun. The Germanic languages lost the K and kept the W (English what, German was) while others lost the W and kept the K (Russian kto "who" and kuda "where to"). Latin kept both, spelling the [kw] sound QU: quo "where", quid "what", qui "who".
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