Hapax legomenon

From Academic Kids

A hapax legomenon (pl. hapax legomena, though sometimes called hapaxes for short) is a word that occurs only once in a given body of text. If a word is used twice it is a dis legomenon, thrice tris legomenon. Beyond tetrakis legomenon, a word is not rare enough to call it that. The term is also used to describe a word found only once in all known writings in a given language. Some examples of these are:

  • honorificabilitudinitatibus is a hapax legomenon of Shakespeare's works.
  • Nortelrye, a word for "education" found only in Chaucer, and then only once.
  • autoguos (αυτογυος), an ancient Greek word for a "plow", found only, and only once, in Hesiod, whose precise meaning is obscure.
  • Flother, a synonym for "snowflake", is a hapax legomenon of written English pre-1900 found in a manuscript from around 1275.

The term is popular among Bible scholars, who take the number of hapaxes in a putative author's corpus as an indication of his vocabulary and thereby argue for or against attribution. The identification of a word as a hapax by these authors means that it occurs once in the Bible or yet more narrowly, once in the New Testament.

The term hapax legomenon refers to a word's appearance in a body of text, not to its origins or prevalence in speech. It thus differs from a nonce word, which may never be recorded, or may find currency and be recorded widely, or which may appear several times in the work which coins it, and so on.

See also

fr:Hapax nl:Hapax

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