hapax legomena

I've titled my most recent series of work hapax legomena, and the first question everyone asks is "What does that mean?" The simple dictionary definition is usually for the singular hapax legomenon (noun, ha·pax le·go·me·non \ˌha-ˌpaks-li-ˈgä-mə-ˌnän, ˌhä-ˌpäks-, -nən\): a word appearing only once in a document or corpus. It comes from the Greek, meaning “something said only once.” It is often abbreviated to just “hapax.”

My work has always been closely connected to words and language and linguistics. Sometimes that simply involves the visual patterns that words make, sometimes it involves the rhythms of a poem or the way words play against one another. Sometimes that play is blatant wordplay, ranging from the (hopefully) sophisticated to the (blatantly) juvenile.

In this series, it’s about the idea of a word only being used once — only once in the entire Hebrew Bible, only once in the Christian New Testament, only once in all the plays by William Shakespeare, etc. They are not inherently special words when isolated and removed from their context; they become random patterns when sprinkled across a sheet of paper. In the case of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, they read like rambling gibberish when strung out consecutively in narrative form.   

And no (to answer the next question), I didn't painstakingly count how many times each word in the Bible is used. Luckily, that research has been conducted by academics who apparently have even less worthwhile to do than I. And it's easily found (like everything else) on the internet. For example… Also easily found (and easily used) is a simple little Java applet that did the counting for me for the Donne and Beckett pieces…