#12. tertium quid

tertium quid:
noun | some third thing similar to two opposites but distinct from both.
(first use 1731)


tertium quid = unknown third

Definition of tertium quid
a middle course or an intermediate component {where there are two systems of law and two orders of courts, there must…be some tertium quid to deal with conflicts of law and jurisdiction — Ernest Baker}
a third party of ambiguous status {there was a man and his wife and a tertium quid — Rudyard Kipling}

Origin and Etymology of tertium quid
Late Latin, literally, third something; from its failing to fit into a dichotomy

tertium quid (n.)
something indeterminate between two other things, 1724, Latin, literally “third something,” from tertius “third, a third,” from the root of tres “three” (see three). A loan-translation of Greek triton ti (Plato), used in alchemy for “unidentified element present in a combination of two known ones.” The Latin word also figures in phrases tertium non datur “no third possibility exists,” and tertius gaudens “a third party that benefits from conflict between the other two.

The Author of this Record encountered the term while reading the Novum Organum by Sir Francis Bacon:

The theory of the Epicureans and others. The atoms are supposed to be indivisible, inalterable particles, endued with all the properties of the given body, and forming that body by their union. They must be separated of course, which either takes a vacuum for granted, or introduces a tertium quid into the composition of the body.

(Novum Organum, Francis Bacon)

About Justin Arn

Part-time Bartender. Full Time Learner. Currently exploring the mystery and wonder of life while coding, reading, and hiking.
This entry was posted in One Word Each Day and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.