Oh, what now? Another funny-looking qu word? Well, yes, but this one’s for a sort of quid pro – not that a quidnunc necessarily believes in quid pro quo, though some will pay to get what they want. Enquiring minds want to know – and, if you ask the National Enquirer, in some matters the only way you’ll get the real goods is by paying.* But this is not some Shakespearean cockney saying “I’ll give you a quid, nuncle, if you tell me the latest.” (Nor is he offering a five-spot… anyway, the usual five-spot pattern is a quincunx.)
No, it’s just someone – anyone – who keeps wanting to know the latest news. Whoever it is, if they sniff some new scuttlebutt, they’ll quickly dun you for it. Could be a gossip columnist who spills more ink than a squid (Hedda Hopper, perhaps?). Could be an average dunce, a small mind with petty interests. You know, a gossip, a busybody, a nosy person.
But why, if we already have several synonyms, do we need another word for this sort of person?
Need? Who said anything about need? The desire for novelty seeks no justification. And this word has something others lack: a tinge of erudition – since, after all, it’s from Latin (quid “what” and nunc “now”). It also has a kind of tricky puckishness to it, like a quick little character, an imp of a person perhaps. The darting sense is aided by the vowels: the first one zipping quickly front and high, like an upward motion; the second lower and farther back, neutral, the classic “dumb” vowel landing with a “thunk.”
And what a fun shape this word has, no? It’s like someone has been given some pieces and is turning them around to examine them – perhaps for topographic information, perhaps to find a way in: q and d, u n u n… c. And the i? Why, that’s what’s doing the looking.
*How do they justify this direct transgression of the fundamental principle of “journalistic ethics” that, however much money you may make on a story, it’s wrong to give any of it to the person(s) who gave you the information you needed? Well, in the Enquirer’s line – which largely involves dishing dirt on individuals – people who give facts for free often have an axe to grind, while the people who know the facts often have a lot to lose by telling them… not to mention that they may have other people also willing to pay (the Enquirer pays for exclusivity). Of course, sometimes paying backfires, too. But that’s really a big debate for another time and place.