Word of the Day: Quiddity

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(n.); the essence or inherent nature of a person or thing; an eccentricity; an odd feature; a trifle, nicety or quibble; from the Latin quid (“what”)

“He was friendly, polite, and deeply interested in even the fine points I raised, and to my astonishment accepted a number of my changes, later saying that he had learned a lot in the process. … He spoke admiringly of Betsy Uhrig, his copyeditor at Little, Brown, and said that I ought to meet her. When we had finished, he sent me a poinsettia.”

–Martha Spaulding, “Editing David Foster Wallace’s ‘Host’”

This week, two Atlantic editors pay homage to two different literary figures whose personalities featured strongly in their writing lives. Most of us in the writing world are aware of the recent passing of Bill Zinsser, whose seminal guide On Writing Well remains an essential handbook for aspiring and experienced writers alike. Corby Kummer writes an affectionate, intimate piece in memoriam of Zinsser’s life, painting a portrait of a life of uncommon enthusiasm and sincerity. Our second article evokes a less recent but still poignant loss to the literary world, as Martha Spaulding offers a brief but rare glimpse of the perpetually surprising David Foster Wallace from the editing process of his 2005 short story, “Host.”


Sara Menuck is currently pursuing BA in English & Professional Writing at York University, Toronto, without being very professional at all. Having interned with a variety of small press publications, she currently works as a prose reader for The Winter Tangerine Review, a department editorial assistant, and, in her free time, a teacher of music to very small, adorable children. More from this author →