once in a while


at one time in the past; formerly: I was a farmer once; a once powerful nation.
a single time: We ate there just once. We go to a movie once a week.
even a single time; at any time; ever: If the facts once become known, it will be just too bad.
by a single step, degree, or grade: a cousin once removed.
former; having at one time been: the once and future king.
if or when at any time; if ever.
whenever; as soon as: Once you're finished, you can leave.
a single occasion; one time only: Once is enough.
all at once,
simultaneously: The children were running, screaming, and throwing things all at once.
suddenly: All at once the rain came down.
at once,
at the same time; simultaneously: Don't all speak at once.
immediately; promptly: Tell him to come at once!
once and again, repeatedly: He has been told once and again not to slam the door.
once and for all, decisively; finally: Let's settle this problem once and for all. Also, once for all.
once in a while, at intervals; occasionally: She stops in to see us once in a while.
once or twice, a very few times; infrequently: I've seen her in the elevator once or twice.
once upon a time, at some unspecified past time, especially a long time ago: Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a prince and princess.

before 1150; Middle English ones, Old English ānes, orig. genitive of ān one; replacing Middle English enes, Old English ǣnes once, equivalent to ǣne once (orig. instrumental of ān) + -es adv. suffix; see -s1

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World English Dictionary
once (wʌns)
1.  one time; on one occasion or in one case
2.  at some past time; formerly: I could speak French once
3.  by one step or degree (of relationship): a cousin once removed
4.  (in conditional clauses, negatives, etc) ever; at all: if you once forget it
5.  multiplied by one
6.  once and away
 a.  conclusively
 b.  occasionally
7.  once and for all conclusively; for the last time
8.  once in a while occasionally; now and then
9.  once or twice, once and again a few times
10.  once upon a time used to begin fairy tales and children's stories
11.  (subordinating) as soon as; if ever or whenever: once you begin, you'll enjoy it
12.  one occasion or case: you may do it, this once
13.  all at once
 a.  suddenly or without warning
 b.  simultaneously
14.  at once
 a.  immediately
 b.  simultaneously
15.  for once this time, if (or but) at no other time
[C12 ones, ānes, adverbial genitive of on, ānone]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

c.1200, anes, from ane "one" + adverbial genitive. Replaced O.E. æne. Spelling changed as pronunciation shifted from two syllables to one after c.1300. Pronunciation change to "wuns" parallels that of one. As an emphatic, meaning "once and for all," it is attested from
c.1300, but this now is regarded as a Pennsylvania German dialect formation. Meaning "in a past time" (but not necessarily just one time) is from c.1250. Once upon a time as the beginning of a story is recorded from 1595. Slang once-over "inspection" is from 1915. At once originally (c.1230) meant "simultaneously," later "in one company" (c.1300), and preserved the sense of "one" in the word; the phrase typically appeared as one word, atones; the modern meaning "immediately" is attested from 1531.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

once in a while

Occasionally, not very often, as in Once in a while I enjoy going fishing. [Mid-1800s] Also see every now and then; from time to time.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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