"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 20 November 2011


As a noun, nonce means for the time being, temporarily, the present, or immediate, occasion or purpose (usually used in the phrase "for the nonce"). A slightly archaic term.

As an adjective it is used of a word or expression used on one occasion: "a nonce usage". I wasn't sure I fully understood this meaning until I read the following in the Wikipedia:- A nonce word is a word used only "for the nonce"—to meet a need that is not expected to recur. Quark, for example, was formerly a nonce word in English, appearing only in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Murray Gell-Mann then adopted it to name a new class of subatomic particle. The use of the term nonce word in this way was apparently the work of James Murray, the influential editor of Oxford English Dictionary.


  1. Since "once" is part of "nonce", I understand that relation, it makes sense. What about "whence"? I've seen this (never heard it, though) written several times.

  2. I often write whence but, as you say, I never use it in speech.