Last November this section featured whilom, one of three words, I said then, with closely related meanings of formerly or previously, the others being erstwhile and quondam. There is a fourth, as correspondent Mark Harvey instantly pointed out: umquhile. As you can tell from its alternative spelling of umwhile, the q is silent. It’s a nice word for Scrabble, but not one to be found in everyday prose.
It’s from the Old English ymb hwíle, which progressively changed to umbewhitle and hence to umwhile or umquhile. The last of these is the Scots spelling, which is why it so often turns up in the works of Sir Walter Scott. One appearance was in The Heart of Midlothian of 1818: “Above the inner entrance hung, and had hung, for many years, the mouldering hatchment, which announced that umquhile Laurence Dumbie of Dumbiedikes had been gathered to his fathers in Newbattle kirkyard”. Another was in The Fair Maid of Perth (1828): “The Lady of the umquhile Walter de Avenel was in very weak health in the Tower of Glendearg”.
As early as 1832, Frances Trollope was noting it as obsolete, in her Domestic Manners of the Americans (she didn’t like them). It has been recorded a few times in the twentieth century, but always in a self-consciously archaic context.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added pieces
Mammock; Mx; Stepney; Vape; Bridegroom; Lilly-low; The Language Myth by Vyvyan Evans; Boot and trunk; Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach; Immensikoff; Habiliments; The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; Agister; The Word at War; Not so green as you’re cabbage-looking.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!