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Quasquicentennial

Mary Sitarski
(Terminology Update, Volume 25, Number 4, 1992, page 19)

Are you looking for an English noun that means "a 125th anniversary" or "a celebration of a 125th anniversary"? Although an undertaking of this magnitude would normally constitute the linguistic equivalent of looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack and necessitate a very good reverse dictionary of English, a stack of Latin dictionaries, or a stroke of serendipity at the very least, it was serendipity that made this discovery possible when a terminologist was asked this question several months ago. The word is "quasquicentennial" (pronounced kwahskwee—) which may have been suggested first by Robert I. Chapman of Funk & Wagnall’s in August 1961 to Frank W. Hatten of Delavan, Illinois, who was trying to find a single word to describe Delevan’s upcoming 125th anniversary celebrations in 1962. Despite coining quasquicentennial as the lesser of many aberrations proposed at the time, even Mr. Chapman has called this expression a monstrosity and was apparently dismayed when it became widely used in the United States as a result of the energetic and determined efforts of Mr. Hatten to have it accepted as a dictionary entry.

Quasquicentennial, which may also be used adjectivally, is patterned after sesquicentennial, which designates "a 150th anniversary." The combining form sesqui- means "plus a half" and is shortened from semis que meaning "and a half." By similarly shortening quadrans which means "a fourth" and by retaining the first syllable and final "s" of quadrans, Mr. Chapman arrived at quasquicentennial.

Quasquicentennial was duly entered in the 1964 edition of Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language, International Edition. It may also be found (if one only knew where to look) in the 1987 edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language as well as in the addendum to the 1981 edition of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. As previously mentioned, it was serendipidity alone that enabled the terminologist to utter "Eureka!" while researching a totally unrelated matter several days after receiving (and abandoning the quest for) this vexatious, although obviously recurring and timely, request. Now, if this terminologist could only figure out how to find an English noun for Montréal’s "350th anniversary or its commemoration"!