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Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the language category. The previous post was , and the next post is .


In his dense and rather wonderful response to the recent In Our Time programme on Zoroastranism (itself dense and rather wonderful) Matt Jones introduced me to a new word: haecceity. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) tells me it means the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is, and makes it different from any other.

Until today, I would have used quiddity to express that concept, which is a troublesome word, because, while it shares a meaning with haecceity, it is also roughly synonymous with words like cavil, nicety, quibble or trifle.

It always seemed very strange to me, that a word could refer to the essential is-ness of something, while its own essential is-ness was muddied by multiple meanings. Or, to put it another way, the quiddity of this or that is the answer to the question quid est? - what is it? - but when you ask that question of quiddity itself, the answer dents the concept of quiddity (as in haecceity), since the word means both haecceity and quibble, meanings that are, in a sense, contradictory. Though, of course, in another sense, since quiddity can never aspire to autologicality, perhaps its awkward pseudo-heterologicality could be seen as a comment on the possible impossibility of haecceity.

Sorry, I lost myself there, let alone anyone reading.

Whatever, haecceity trumps quiddity for me, from now on in. I just hope it’s a concept I’ll genuinely need to express sometime soon, as it’s not really the sort of thing you can casually drop into everyday conversation, or even everyday writing. And I’m just bursting to.

Posted at 12pm on 30/11/04 by Jack Mottram to the language category.
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  1. Nice word - reminds me of a mega Noun plus 7 by an Oulipian:
    ‘To be or not to be that is the quibble’

    Posted by Luke at 9am on 03.12.04

  2. Hee. Gotta love those crazy Oulipians.

    More stuff like this on MeFi

    Posted by Jack Mottram at 1pm on 03.12.04

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