Hapax Legomenon (HAY-pax Luh-GO-muh-nawn)

I am ...

Photo of my granddaughter by me.

I am a writer, an author, a poet.


But in my “other” life, I am a missionary, a linguist, a Bible translator (mostly vicariously through my hubby).


But in both these lives, I am a lover of words. So, when I come across a word or phrase I think is cool but don’t necessarily understand, I go digging. Why?

Because I’m curious! My curiosity often jump-starts my imagination, which leads to inspiration.

That’s what happened a few days ago in my morning Bible reading time. I read the verse 1 Peter 1:20 in the NET. I like the NET for its notes on certain words. In the NET this verse reads:

“Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination,”

I looked at the notes under the word “imagination” and came across a Greek term I’d never heard before — hapax legomenon. Well, that’s a cool phrase. What does it mean? Lo and behold, it’s a term used in corpus linguistics.


Image by Vojtech Janda

As a linguist, I’m familiar with corpus linguistics. In layman’s terms, it’s the study and analysis of a language based on a large body of written and spoken texts. Sometimes in these bodies of texts, a word or phrase is used only once. That’s hapax legomenon.


Wow — one word used only once in a large body of text.

According to the NET notes, the Greek word Peter uses that we translate as “imagination” in 1 Peter 1:20 is used only this one time in the whole New Testament.


And that set my mind a whirling, pondering the greater wonder and mystery of God in His Word. Which led to a poem and MY interpretation of hapax legomenon.

I offer it here for your pondering and enjoyment:


Hapax Legomenon Down through history man has attempted to define man by corpus linguistics that is, by analyzing ourselves through large collections of words, spoken & written, of actions played out through time.


All of humanity studied and analyzed in an attempt to understand to explain to predict my inner self, your inner self, our actions in the present in the future.


Descriptions on paper we are corpus —  part of a whole, interdependence our need.


And yet — 


You and I are unique: physically mentally emotionally spiritually.


In a single breath with one Word we came to be my life, your life, created beautiful glorious timeless. I am hapax legomenon. You are hapax legomenon.


"You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!

Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it." (Ps. 139:13,14, NLT)


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