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What’s a Nonce Word?

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Lorelei from Wakefield, Virginia, learned the word nonce from the Spelling Bee game in The New York Times. When she looked up the definition of nonce, she saw it described as an adjective that is coined for or used for one occasion. She found this amusing, since the only time she ever sees it is in the spelling bee game. Nonce derives from Middle English words then anes, meaning “the once.” The word frabjous in Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” is an example of a nonce word. Nonce words coined for just one occasion sometimes take on a life of their own. Words that embody what they denote are described as autological. The word polysyllabic is autological because it contains several syllables, as pentasyllabic, which contains five syllables. Other examples of autological words: the noun noun, and the adjectives sibilant and wee. This is part of a complete episode.

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