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!

Fun Word: Pecuniary


(explosions, confetti, huzzahs, pandemonium)

THIS SPACETIME CONTINUUM – Happy New Year! It’s 2018, and it seems like the perfect time to start a new running feature: fun words!

I have been keeping a list of rare, obscure, and archaic words that I come across as I read (the list is up to perhaps 200-300 words), and it seems like it would be great to share some of these with everybody.

So, without further ado, the first fun word!

The fun word this week is pecuniary. It comes from Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. On pages 69-70 of the 2003 edition (ISBN 9780140432039) we read (speaking about Ethlebert Stanhope):

He did go to Judea, but being unable to convert the Jews, was converted by them. He again wrote home, to say that Moses was the only giver of perfect laws to the world, that the coming of the true Messiah was at hand, that great things were doing in Palestine, and that he had met one of the family of Sidonia, a most remarkable man, who was now on his way to western Europe, and whom he had induced to deviate from his route with the object of calling at the Stanhope villa. Ethelbert then expressed his hope that his mother and sisters would listen to this wonderful prophet. His father he know could not do so from pecuniary considerations. 

In this passage, Ethelbert, the son of a Christian churchman, goes to Palestine to convert the Jews to Christianity, but, being highly impressionable, gets reverse converted. He hopes that his family will convert to Judaism but, not being a total imbecile, knows that it is unrealistic to expect his father to make the change from “pecuniary considerations.”

So, what does pecuniary mean? According to my red Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary © 1984 it means “of, consisting of, or pertaining to money.”

Knowing that, it funny to see how even this young man, though driven from this important foundational belief to that by his strong emotions and passions, still recognizes sober facts of the world, like how it is unrealistic to expect his father to discard his Christianity for pecuniary, or financial, reasons ie the Church of England is signing his paychecks.

NOTE: I never wrote a review of Barchester Towers, so I want to use this space to say that I found it to be a dense work, highly tied to its time, and written with advanced English (three things that might drive away potential readers); on the other hand, it is tremendously funny and satisfying. I recommend it.

Real Life Application: Next time you’re going in to ask for a raise, try broaching the subject by telling your boss you’d like to discuss some pecuniary matters. It will surely get you started off on the right foot!