Fun Word: Almoner

THIS UNIVERSE – The fun word today is almoner. The previous fun word was pecuniary as used in Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, and this word is ALSO taken from a passage in Barchester Towers. The passage is found on page 16 of the Penguin Classics edition and reads as follows:

He had been preacher to the royal beefeaters, curator of theological manuscripts in the Ecclesiastical Courts, chaplain to the Queens’ yeomanry guard, and almoner to his Royal Highness the Prince of Rappe-Blankenberg.

I love Trollope’s vocabulary! It should be noted that the “royal beefeaters” were a part of the Yeoman’s Guard Extraordinary, so Dr. Proudie (the person about whom this sentence is) was a spiritual leader for two different sets of yeomanry. Also, I love that Dr. Proudie is described as both a preacher and a chaplain; I’m not entirely sure what the distinction is, but it certainly makes him sound impressive.

And so that brings us to the word of the day, almoner. So, what the heck is an almoner?? It is apparently rare enough to not be in my little red Webster’s II dictionary. So, looking online….according to Mirriam-Webster, an almoner is:

1one who distributes alms
2Britisha social-service worker in a hospital

I’m not sure which usage is correct in this case seeing as how this book is thoroughly British and both seem like they could be correct. I wonder if the Oxford English Dictionary could offer some perspective. Here’s the definition as found in the OED:

Aha! This definitely sheds some light on the situation. According to the first definition of the word, almoner can simply be the name of a functionary in a religious house like that of a “bishop, prince, or other person of rank.” This seems to be the sense in which the word is used by Trollope; Dr. Proudie was the almoner “to his Royal Highness the Prince of Rappe-Blankenberg.” 

It seems like he might’ve had some role in dispensing alms, but it sounds more like he was a figurehead, just someone holding down one of the MANY positions available to the clergy in the Church of England.

Anyway, that is a lot of information about the word almoner. This doesn’t seem like a word that will be coming back into widespread use anytime soon especially since alms-giving isn’t really a thing anymore. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do….

COMMENT TIME WOO HOO: Before you go, please use the word almoner in the comments below! Have fun!

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