Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The real nature of a thing; the essence.
  • n. A hairsplitting distinction; a quibble.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The essence or inherent nature of a person or thing.
  • n. A trifle; a nicety or quibble
  • n. An eccentricity; an odd feature

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The essence, nature, or distinctive peculiarity, of a thing; that which answers the question, Quid est? or, What is it?
  • n. A trifling nicety; a cavil; a quibble.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In scholastic philos., that which distinguishes a thing from other things, and makes it what it is, and not another; substantial form; nature.
  • n. A trifling nicety; a cavil; a quirk or quibble.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. an evasion of the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections
  • n. the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other

Etymologies

Medieval Latin quidditās, from Latin quid, what; see kwo- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle French quiddité, and its source, Late Latin quidditas, from Latin quid + -itas. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • I was reminded of contranyms when Matt sent me an email about the word quiddity which means both “essence” and “hairsplitting distinction.”

    Rambles at starchamber.com » Blog Archive » Self-contradictory words

  • It has therefore been termed the quiddity of the thing.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 7: Gregory XII-Infallability

  • A novelist's ultimate achievement is to enable us to know a character so well that we catch a glimpse of his inviolable unknowability, his singular quiddity -- in other words, though Wood doesn't use the term, his soul.

    Powell's Books: Overview

  • The real but initially hidden starting point for Bonaventure's ontological argument in the Journey is the notion of esse purissimum, taken not subjectively as existing as a concept in a human mind, but in its objective meaning, [63] that is, as signifying a certain kind of quiddity or essence.

    Amputee

  • This may be expressed in the form of the apophatic theology of an Ibn Sina or Maimonides or Nicholas of Cusa: Ibn Sina (like Aquinas and all that flows from him) insists that there can be no answer to the question, 'What makes God divine?' as if some 'quiddity' could be identified that grounded a divine definition.

    'Analysing Atheism; Unbelief and the world of Faiths' Georgetown University, Washington DC

  • A novelist’s ultimate achievement is to enable us to know a character so well that we catch a glimpse of his inviolable unknowability, his singular quiddity – in other words, though Wood doesn’t use the term, his soul.

    A conversation with William Deresiewicz’s article in The Nation…Following James Wood into the Desert…

  • The quiddity of a terminal is smarm, or perhaps a smarmy hustling: sweating, fat men counting bills with strange intensity under a light besieged by insects.

    1 The Journey To Huila « Unknowing

  • I even prefer it over college basketball, (although I think the two are apples and oranges, but that's another post: the ontological quiddity of pro vs. college b-ball).

    Sports

  • "Embassytown" might be called the culmination of these interests: For his eighth novel he has created a new city on a new world in a new universe, one underpinned by the immer, a "big and tidal quiddity" where normal rules of space and time do not apply and which ships cross to travel between planets.

    Full Immersion

  • Each culture has its own quiddity, and I enjoy history and architecture, so Europe will always have its charms as a place to visit.

    Coyote Blog » Blog Archive » US vs. Europe: Standard of Living

Comments

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  • "or a giant grampus, baiting Jonah, trapping Cain, haunting Ahab; all avatars of that vital quiddity which no ocular straining will pull into focus. . ." Gilbert Adair translation of Georges Perec's La Disparition

    August 11, 2010

  • I beg to differ.

    December 7, 2008

  • See also: my brother.

    December 14, 2007

  • Oxford University Press philosophy dictionary provides an alternative definition:

    "The real essence or nature of a thing; that which makes it the kind of thing that it is (sometimes opposed to haecceity which makes it the particular individual that it is)."

    December 14, 2007

  • On my contranym list. Meaning: niggling distinction vs. defining character of, i.e.,quintessence

    December 27, 2006