This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Nuts and Bolts: hapax legomena

Nortelrye must be one of the most lovable words in the universe. It means education, and it's a great shame it isn't used more often.

In fact, it's used so seldom that it's a hapax legomenon, which is a word that only occurs once in a particular body of work. Nortelrye occurs exactly once in the works of Chaucer, but the body of work in question might be an entire language or just one particular book.

Unfortunately hapax legomena can be a real nuisance, because if you only have one example of a word then it's jolly difficult to work out what it means. A lot of still-mysterious hieroglyphs are hapax legomena.

Scholars sometimes find hapax legomena useful, though. Each of Shakespeare's plays contains a roughly similar number of hapax legomena which aren't found elsewhere in his work, and this has been used as an argument that the same person wrote them all, and that Hamlet, for instance, wasn't written by someone much posher and dead, as is so often claimed.

For the non-scholars amongst us, hapax legomena are rather lovable things. I don't know why it's so satisfying to know that biblical Hebrew only contains the word for cheese, gvina, once...

...but it is, isn't it.

Thing To Put Into A Piece Of Writing Today: a hapax legomenon. This is the Ancient Greek for said only once.

In this post there are quite a lot of hapax legomena: but I can't point them out, or they wouldn't be, would they?