Definition: Former holder of a position/office.

Pronunciation: Kwahn-dum

Origin: Entered the English language in the 1530s. Originally from Latin, meaning ‘formerly’.

Why This Word?

The Catholic Church doesn’t like change. This can be evidenced by the surprising news concerning Pope Benedict’s resignation earlier in 2013: the idea of papal resignation taking only some 600 years to take (it is about 600 years since the last pope, Gregory XII, resigned). This, for people who care about this sort of thing, caused a problem: how should one refer to the former Pope? Rather than suffer the tyranny of the prefix ‘Ex’ or the too-English-sounding ‘erstwhile’, the Vatican decided to look into its Latin soul for an answer. They chose ‘Emeritus’ – i.e., that Benedict would now be referred to as ‘Pope Emeritus Benedict’.

But why ‘Emeritus’?  After all, ‘Emeritus’ technically refers to a veteran soldier that has finished his/her duty. There was another potential candidate – one with a cleaner definition and equally strong Latin roots: Quondam. Not only does it mean ‘former’ – it is specifically used to refer to a former office holder.

The answer, I suspect, in why ‘Emeritus’ was chosen over Quondam is the fact that Quondam was an early spelling for what we now spell as ‘Condom’. Thus, Quondam is essentially also a quondam condom …

How to use the word quondam in a sentence?

If you are a Pope intent on resigning, avoid this word. You do not want to be remembered as the Pope who finally endorsed the use of the humble Quondam


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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