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Pronounced /ˈkwɪdnʌŋk/Help with pronunciation

Many of my dictionaries either don’t include this word — meaning an inquisitive person or gossip — or tag it as archaic or obsolete. For a word supposedly dead, it's in rude health, as the recently revised entry in the Oxford English Dictionary confirms.

The ins and outs of celebrity used to be deemed a subject fit only for quidnuncs and checkout girls, but in the 21st century it has attracted serious investigation.

Independent, 10 Sep. 2010.

It’s a fine example of what was originally an obscure (and doubtless somewhat patronising) scholarly in-joke, formed from the two Latin words quid, “what”, and nunc, “now”. It was said to describe a person who was forever asking “What now?” or “What’s the news?”, hence a gossip-monger; it first appeared about 1710.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of it in The House of the Seven Gables in 1851 is typical: “What a treasure-trove to these venerable quidnuncs, could they have guessed the secret which Hepzibah and Clifford were carrying along with them!”.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 27 Jun. 1998
Last updated: 7 Jan. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-qui1.htm
Last modified: 7 January 2012.