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Etymology 1

From Middle English nonse, nones, a rebracketing of Middle English to þan anes, for þan anes (to/for the one (occasion, instance)). The cryptography sense is commonly said to be a contraction of number used once, although this is probably incorrect.


nonce (plural nonces)

  1. The one or single occasion; the present reason or purpose (now only in for the nonce).
    That will do for the nonce, but we'll need a better answer for the long term.
  2. (lexicography) A nonce word.
    I had thought that the term was a nonce, but it seems as if it's been picked up by other authors.
  3. (cryptography) A value constructed so as to be unique to a particular message in a stream, in order to prevent replay attacks.
    • 1978 December 1, Roger M. Needham, “Using Encryption for Authentication in Large Networks of Computers”, in Communications of the ACM, volume 21, number 12:
      The protocol opens with A communicating in clear to AS his own claimed identity and the identity of the desired correspondent, B, together with A's nonce identifier for this transaction, IA1. ("Nonce" means "used only once.")
    • 1999, Network Working Group, RFC 2617 – HTTP Authentication: Basic and Digest Access Authentication, The Internet Society, page 22:
      The information gained by the eavesdropper would permit a replay attack, but only with a request for the same document, and even that may be limited by the server's choice of nonce.
    • 2006, Tom St Denis, Cryptography for Developers:
      Both CCM and GCM require a unique nonce (N used once) value to maintain their privacy and authenticity goals.
    • 2012, Steven Anson, Mastering Windows Network Forensics and Investigation:
      The main idea with the challenge-response type of authentication protocol is that the challenge sent by the server is used only once (referred to as a cryptographic nonce, which means “number used once”).
Derived terms


nonce (not comparable)

  1. One-off; produced or created for a single occasion or use. Denoting something occurring once.
    • 1977, Robert Anderson Hall & ‎David Morris Feldman, Homenaje a Robert A. Hall, Jr, page 75:
      But particular men are not stereotyped for jobs nor particular desks (as against others) to sit at - the standard here is nonce.
    • 2009, Judith FARR & ‎Louise Carter, The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, →ISBN, page 55:
      Dickinson's association of heliotrope with Mary Bowles was nonce and fleeting, but the subject of gardens was always a safe one on which to address her: “How is your garden – Mary? Are the Pinks true –?”
    • 2010, Susana Rivera-Mills & ‎Juan Antonio Trujillo -, Building Communities and Making Connections, →ISBN, page 191:
      Poplack et al. (1988, 57) found that 65% of their types were nonce and only 7% of the types were considered widespread.
    • 2018, James Lambert, “A multitude of ‘lishes’: The nomenclature of hybridity”, in English World-Wide[1], page 16:
      Some of the single-citation terms appeared to be nonce formations, that is, created for the occasion.

Etymology 2

Unknown, derived from British criminal slang. Several origins have been proposed; possibly derived from dialectal nonce, nonse (stupid, worthless individual), or Nance, nance (effeminate man), from nancy or nancyboy. Another theory is that it is a shortening or dialectal pronunciation of "no(t) once", a common defense of sexual predators in court of law.


nonce (plural nonces)

  1. (Britain, slang, derogatory, prisons) A sex offender, especially one who is guilty of sexual offences against children.
    That bloke who lives at number 53 is a nonce!
  2. (Britain, slang) A stupid or worthless person.
    Shut it, ya nonce!




nonce m (plural nonces)

  1. nuncio

Further reading