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Nun*cu”pa*to*ry\, a. Nuncupative; oral.

nun·cu·pa·tive /ˈnʌŋkyəˌpeɪtɪv, nʌŋˈkyupətɪv/

(esp. of a will) oral; not written.

1540–50; < ML ( testāmentum ) nuncupātīvum oral (will), neut. of LL nuncupātīvus so-called, nominal, equiv. to L nuncupāt ( us ) ptp. of nuncupāre to state formally, utter the name of (prob. < *nōmicupāre, deriv. of *nōmiceps one taking a name, equiv. to *nōmi– comb. form of nōmen name + –ceps taking, possessing; see prince) + –īvus -ive

Source: Dictionary.com.

“Quite right, sir, and while the subject is fresh in my mind, I would like you to resolve a perplexity. A single father often boasts four sons, but how does a single son boast four fathers?”

Disserl, Vasker and Archimbaust rapidly tapped the table; the eye ear and arm were interchanged. At last Vasker made a curt gesture. “The question is nuncupatory.”

Source: Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance.

The use of this word appears to be a mistake or malapropism on the part of the character.

Categories: Lexicon, Literature, Quotations
  1. 4 January 2011 at 2:49 am

    Not clear. Webster’s 1828 apparently has “1. Nominal; existing only in name” as a definition alongside two closer to the dictionary.com usage, which makes sense of Vasker’s rebuttal (‘there is no such thing’, in effect).

    Also, this is in general this is a plausible stretch of meaning, poetic or historical, from the one you cite: an adjective meaning ‘spoken’ could easily transition to ‘merely spoken’, ‘in words only and not reality’, etc. Vasker’s response is comprehensible in context even without Webster’s help, I think.

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