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Pronunciation: UK kwahn-dahm, US: kwahn-dêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, noun

Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Erstwhile, former, ex. 2. (Noun, mostly UK) The former holder of an office or position.

Notes: If you ever need a more esoteric word for former, you will hardly find a word further from the general vocabulary than this one. For that reason, we should suspect it to be a lexical orphan. However, it brings along with it an adverb, quondamly, and a noun, quondamship, referring to the state of being out of office—testimony to its longevity despite its rarity.

In Play: As an adjective, we might hear today's word in expressions like this: "I saw your quondam wife at the Elbow Room last night with Les Dance." As a noun, it might be used this way: "Though Les Newcomb had seen the civil service from the inside, he was not enough a quondam to be objective about its mystique."

Word History: Today's Good Word was stolen whole from Latin, where it was an adverb meaning "formerly" made from PIE kwo-/kwe-, a relative and interrogative pronoun ("when, where, who, which") + -dam, a demonstrative pronoun ending. We see kwo- in English who, where [k] became [h], but Russian kuda "whereto" and kogda "when", Serbian ko "who" and kada "when", Latin quo "where(to)" and qui "who, which", Irish cé "who" and cá "where", Latvian and Lithuanian kas "who, what", Hindi kaun "who, what", Bhojpuri koon "who", Bangla ki "who", and Romany (Gypsy) koj "who" and koga "when". (Now let's thank Mike Nichols, certainly not a quondam friend, for finding today's most arcane Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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