A word occuring only once within a given context such as the works of an author or a single text. In Biblical Studies, the "context" is taken to be either the Hebrew Bible in its entirety, or the Greek New Testament in its entirety.

While the broad definition of a hapax legomenon -- from Greek ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, "something said once", and sometimes simply abbreviated as "hapax" -- can apply to authors or individual works,1 in Biblical Studies it refers to:

  • a Hebrew lexeme occuring only once in the Hebrew Bible; or
  • a Greek lexeme occuring only once in the Greek New Testament,

where "lexeme" is a technical term for the form of a "word" which represents its other forms.

For further information, see:

Use of the terminology is not always consistent, particularly in the case of Greek, where a word with a single occurrence in the New Testament may find attestation outside it as well.2 In such cases, both strict (only once, ever) and looser (only once in the given corpus) uses of the term can be found.

  1. See also the definition in "One-Hit Wonders: From Hapax to Googlewhacks" in the OUP Blog, a post by Ben Zimmer (2007-10-04).
  2. A good example here is αὐθεντεῖν authentein which is sometimes regarded as a hapax, even though there are extra-biblical occurrences of the word.
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