Sunday 2 July 2017

hapax lexicon

The works of William Shakespeare gave us many nonce words—contrived for that specific occasion only, but later adopted into at least uncommon parlance, but there’s a linguistic form that fairly prevalent contextually but that the Bard only gives us two examples of: what’s called a hapax legomenon.
From the Greek for “only said once,” they are bedevilling instances of words—which may have been common enough in everyday speech but were only recorded in a particular corpus one time and usually very difficult to interpret. Shakespeare’s hapaxes are hebenon, the mystery poison in Hamlet used to kill his father the king and honorificabilitudinitatibus, meaning honourable or merit-worthy—and is in addition to being the longest occurrence of alternating consonants and vowels in annuals of English literature, some anti-Shakespearians take this word as an admission of authorship with one possible anagram being “hi ludi, F. Baconis nati, tuiti orbi” or rather “these plays, F[rancis] Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world.” Another from an older medieval manuscript is flother, a synonym for snowflake, and apparently preserved nowhere else. By extension, hapaxes can also be singular occurrences in a given literary tradition: the word for cheese (גבינה) for example only appears once in the Old Testament in the Book of Job, but has become the standard modern Hebrew term.