Monday, August 06, 2007

help--what is a "nonce"?

I learned a new word today, but I can't seem to get a sense of the meaning, which makes the amateur philologist in here crazy.

OED gives: 1.a. for the nonce. a. For the particular purpose; on purpose; expressly. Freq. with infinitive or clause expressing the object or purpose. In quot. 1949: for the purpose of teasing or joking; for its own sake. Now Eng. regional (south.) and Sc.


1.c. For the particular occasion; for the time being, temporarily; for once.

So a google "define: nonce" gives the above and also: A randomly chosen value, different from previous choices, inserted in a message to protect against replays

The only definition I found which does make sesne is a secondary definition in OED:

(british criminal slang) nonce: A sexual deviant; a person convicted of a sexual offence, esp. child abuse

Ah here's a fun column from william safire in the new york times (which, by the way, you'll probably have to register for a free account in order to view) in which he says: "Today’s linguistic space odyssey shows how mainstream readers can tangle with the weaving Web. A last word: Don’t knock yourself out looking for the origin of e-maelstrom, “a storm of electronic communications.” It was minted today, right here, and if it does not die in the nonce, a dispute will arise over capitalization."

Ha--okay, I get that.

Any of you use this word? And how?


byron smith said...

Any of you use this word? And how?
Yes. But only once.

Joe said...

Well, there you go. I'm British and I didn't know it meant child abuser. I've only ever heard it used as mild slang.

Still... Oddly appropriate in some ways.

Joe said...

ps, apparently it comes from prison, where prisoners on sex charges were chalked up as 'Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise' - ie kept away from other prisoners.

So there we go. Isn't it interesting that the derivation of swear words is far more interesting than polite language?