Printable Version
Pronunciation: hwai-lêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, adverb

Meaning: Former, erstwhile, past, ex-, late in the sense of "deceased".

Notes: Here is a rather historical word that we still find in all dictionaries, and for those of us who enjoy 19th, even 18th century novels, it's a word we bump into now and then. Let's give it another chance. At one time we could add to whilom the adverbial -s, as in upstairs, outdoors, indoors to clarify its adverbial usage (whiloms), but that didn't last long.

In Play: As an adjective, today's word may be used to express sentiments like this: "Aubrey stared wistfully across the crowded room at his whilom girlfriend." As an adverb, it was used like this: "Whilom I dreamed longingly of my younger years until I learned to never look back."

Word History: Old English hwilum meant "occasionally". It was the dative case of the noun hwil "a period of time", a sense which is preserved today in expressions like 'a while ago' and 'a while back'. The English [h] goes back to PIE [k], so it comes as no surprise that this word came into English from the PIE word kweiê-/kwoiê- "to rest quietly, quiet, peaceful". This word also went into the making of Sanskrit ciram "after a long time, slowly" and Latin quie(t)s "rest, quiet", which English snatched as quiet. We find remnants of it with a prefix in Russian pokoy "peace, rest" as in pokoynik "dead person".

Dr. Goodword,

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