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19 Sep 2013

I’ve Just Discovered a New Word

Whilom. It means former. It was originally the dative plural of the Old English word for ‘time’. Who knew? I didn’t.

I read it in The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published by the wonderful Persephone Books. Persephone specialise in rediscovering and republishing largely forgotten works, mostly by women and mostly from the early 20th century. This one was first published in 1901 and, although charming and delightful, it is certainly no more than middle-brow. And the word isn’t used in a fancy context: the heroine, about to marry a Marquis and become fabulously wealthy, expresses her surprise and delight to the lady who made the introduction – ‘her whilom patroness’.

So presumably the none-too-intellectual novel reader at the turn of the century would have taken in this word without a blink. Odd that it should have disappeared so completely from day-to-day use. I might start a campaign to revive it.

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