Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hapax Legomenon: Definition and Synonyms

Hapax legomenon is an expression that every student of the Greek New Testament needs to know, and to know how to use. The OUP Blog today has an excellent entry on the topic:

One-Hit Wonders: From Hapax to Googlewhacks
Ben Zimmer
. . . . Hapax legomenon (plural: hapax legomena; sometimes shortened to hapax) literally means “(a thing) said only once” in Greek, and it was originally used in Biblical studies to refer to a word that appears uniquely in one place in the Old or New Testament. Biblical hapax legomena present a challenge to translators from the classical source languages of Hebrew and Greek, since they don’t have other examples of a word to use as a point of comparison. It’s especially a problem for the Hebrew Bible, since there are few other Classical Hebrew texts to work from, besides the Dead Sea Scrolls and some other fragments. We’re a bit better off when a hapax is in our own language, but they can sometimes be just as baffling . . .
The whole article is worth reading. The word "originally used" above is well chosen since the term "hapax" is used pretty broadly in contemporary Biblical studies, from a word that occurs just once in a given text (e.g. "this word is a hapax in Luke"), to a word that occurs just once in the NT, to a word that occurs just once in Greek literature to that point.

2 comments:

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I've also heard the term in relation to Homer,

Tim said...

I've even seen the term used (by lazy or linguistically ignorant Old Testament scholar) for rare words used merely a few times!

Actually that characterisation was perhaps unfair, since we seem to lack a term for such words, and they are important to discuss and the true (once only) hapax is merely an extreme case...