• whodunit •
hu-dên-it • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A detective mystery in which no one knows who committed the crime until the very end.
Notes: Here is a nonce word gone legitimate. It is a word whose spelling captures the ungrammatical pronunciation of colloquial English. You may want to try whodunitry "characteristics of a whodunit"; several British publications have. You may also double the N (whodunnit) if you please.
In Play: Whodunits usually involve murder: "Rhoda Book penned several whodunits because her sister Rita loves to read them." However, it may be used figuratively: "The search for the cause and cure of the corona virus has all the major characteristics of a whodunit."
Word History: According to Merriam-Webster, in 1930 Donald Gordon, a book reviewer for News of Books, wrote that a detective novel, Milward Kennedy's Half-Mast Murder, was "a satisfactory whodunit". Unfortunately, no copy of the review has survived so we have no details of it, not even an exact publication date. Other writers who picked it up tried more reasonable spellings—who-done-it and whodidit stand out, but none of these caught on, probably because they were not as amusing as the original. Multiple predictions that it would never be accepted by editors were made, but that those prophesies have proven to be decidedly wrong. Other writers claimed first use at later dates but, again, backed up with no confirmed evidence. (Let's all now applaud Suzanne Russell whose quick eye spotted today's surprising Good Word and who recommended it.)
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