On Plurals of hapax.

Laudator Temporis Acti has an entertaining rant about people who think the Latin Greek adverb hapax ‘once’ is a noun and exercise their creativity (and whatever small degree of Latinity classical knowledge they have) in coming up with plurals to it. Some people choose hapaces (“a message requiring the use of two hapaces”; “To mention only a few hapaces”), but a few (including the egregious Martin Bernal) come up with the absurd hapakes (“oddities or even hapakes”).

The interesting thing to me is the concluding pair of paragraphs:

More common than either hapaces or hapakes is hapaxes. See e.g. Mark W. Edwards, The Iliad: A Commentary, Vol. V: Books 17-20 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), who uses hapaxes repeatedly on pp. 53-55.

Hapax is short for hapax legomenon, whose proper plural is hapax legomena. Some will defend the solecisms above on various grounds and call me a mossbacked linguistic prescriptivist, a charge to which I cheerfully plead guilty.

It seems to me that there are two different kinds of prescriptivism at work here, wielding peeves of varying potency. The objection to hapaces and hapakes is one I share; it involves a misunderstanding exceeding that involved in the creation of, say, octopi (and hapakes further demonstrates a basic ignorance as to how these things work in English). To create a false plural to a noun may be regarded as a misfortune; to create one to an adverb looks like carelessness. In this regard, my back is as mossy as Gilleland’s.

But the objection to hapaxes is prescriptivism of the worser sort, the kind of peevery that demands everyone stop using language creatively and simply follow a set of rules engraved on tablets which the peever happens to have in their possession. It is foolishness pure and simple to expect people to forever say hapax legomenon and use hapax legomena as its plural. Language users demand usability, and it is much more useful to treat hapax as an English noun, whatever role it may have filled in its language of origin, and create the regular hapaxes as its plural. To object to that is to want to turn a living language into a dead one, and I am afraid that is the goal of peevery, whether its practitioners recognize it or not.

Mind you, if English-speakers had for whatever reason decided en masse to use hapaces as the plural centuries ago, I would have no more objection to it than I do to bartizan, even though it is equally misconceived. Common usage sweeps all before it.


  1. the kind of peevery that demands everyone stop using language creatively and simply follow a set of rules engraved on tablets which the peever happens to have in their possession.

    Very nice, Hat!

    I vote for “hapcakes”. Cake for everyone.

  2. And a text having a lot of hapaxes can be called “hapacious”

  3. Michael Hendry says

    I’m disappointed that Michael (whom I’ve met once and corresponded with for years) doesn’t mention the alternative plural ‘hapages’. I know I’ve used that form as a joke, but I don’t recall where. It seems to be unknown to the search engines, though the search is complicated by the existence of a Russian site (or software package or something webly) called HaPages.

    I did have a teacher once who liked to refer to copies from the copy machine as ‘xerokes’ (3 syllables: ‘ZEE-roe-kezz’). Again, strictly jocular, and never in writing.

    As for ‘octopi’, that often comes up teaching elementary Latin. I’ve always advised students that ‘octopi’ will annoy Latin teachers, ‘octopodes’ is hopelessly pedantic (besides, the ancient spelling is ‘octapodes’ or rather ὀκτάποδες, since it’s only found in Greek), and ‘octopuses’ may be correct for English but looks and sounds horribly wrong. With no better option, I recommend that we treat it like ‘fish’ and ‘deer’ and say ‘one octopus, two octopus’. I would do the same with ‘platypus’.

    I’m inclined to do the same with ‘mongoose’, too: I believe ‘mongooses’ is correct, but ‘a pair of mongoose’ sounds acceptable to me – way better than ‘mongeese’ or ‘mongooses’. In these non-prescriptive days, who’s going to stop me?

  4. plural hapax legomena, singular hapack legomenon

  5. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Hapaces is at least on the English model of appendix/appendices and index/indices – I quite like that idea of noticing the unusual patterns, rather than just sticking an -s on everything. (Although I do actually prefer hapaxes as a word!)

    (I also quite like octopi, but I’ve never thought anyone took it very seriously…)

  6. I did have a teacher once who liked to refer to copies from the copy machine as ‘xerokes’ (3 syllables: ‘ZEE-roe-kezz’). Again, strictly jocular, and never in writing.

    See, that’s funny, and I wish I’d come up with it (though I would have said ZEE-roe-keez). But there’s all the difference in the world between a jokey nonce usage that one knows one’s hearers will appreciate as a joke and an attempt at a serious form to be used in serious writing.

  7. It occurs to me that I might actually have come up with it and used it decades ago when I was regularly dealing with Xerox machines, and that I have simply forgotten, as I have forgotten so many things. Eheu!

  8. (One eheu, two eheves?)

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    Ehei. (The word is, of course, borrowed from Romanian.)

    Hapaxes is obviously correct. Laudator should count himself lucky that he is dealing with mere Anglophones. Compare Lingala motuka “motor car”, plural (naturally) mituka. Or, less entertainingly perhaps, Swahili kitabu “book”, plural vitabu.

    Those determined to express their unusual depth of learning could of course use Hapäxe.

    Kusaal would have hapak, plural hapa’as, but I don’t think textual criticism has really taken off as a thing yet in those parts.

    Kusaal adverbs actually are basically specialised nouns, and can be used as verb subjects and everything. Laudator’s trouble is of course that he is analysing English grammar in terms of Latin categories, rather than the much more appropriate Kusaal ones. (All modern languages are essentially Kusaal; except Hungarian, of course.)

  10. Michael Hendry says

    Given the paucity of 4th-declension neuters like ‘cornu’ and ‘genu’ in Latin, perhaps we should make one more: one eheu, two eheua.

    And the pronunciation ‘ZEE-roe-kezz’ uses the Greek ending for a Greek word: the 3rd-declension masculine and feminine plurals in Latin are -ēs (nominative and accusative), but in Greek (and sometimes in Graecizing Latin) the vowels are short: -ες (-ĕs) nominative, -ας (-ăs) accusative.

    Of course, it then Anglicizes the Greek consonants, turning the Xi and Sigma into Zee sounds.

  11. As a kid I alternated between treating “Kleenex” as the singular of “Kleenices” and treating it as the plural of “Kleenek”.

  12. I have said Xeroxeseseez in the past and will do so yet, as my whim commands me. I suppose I should do the same with hapax.

  13. Jen in Edinburgh says

    (All modern languages are essentially Kusaal, except Hungarian, of course.)

    Did you not decide yesterday that Gaelic was 68/72 Welsh?

    (Hang on. 17/18!)

  14. Dan Milton says

    Re Eddyshaw’s Swahili “kitabu” “book” plural “vitabu”, my favorite Swahili is “kiplefti” “traffic circle” plural “viplefti”.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    Did you not decide yesterday that Gaelic was 68/72 Welsh?

    There is no contradiction there. Welsh, too, is essentially Kusaal. All This is That … tad evam … set your mind free …

  16. The OED broke out “hapax” as a separate headword when they revised “hapax legomenon” in 2013, without specifying a plural form, which by default means it’s by regular English rules. There’s one quotation (Classical Weekly, 1926) using “hapaxes”, and of course many subsequent scholarly examples can be found, as well as another quote in the OED under “anaphorical”. I think Laudator is trolling you.

  17. someone who actually understands dikduk can tell me what’s wrong with “hapoxem”, but i may use it anyway.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    UNICes is fairly common Out There.

  19. Compare Lingala motuka “motor car”, plural (naturally) mituka.

    “Car” is a good word for that sort of thing. Western Algerian Arabic has luṭu(l’auto), plural lwaṭa. And I recently learned that colloquial modern Hebrew actually has a suppletive plural for óto “car”…

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    “Car” in Kusaal is lɔr, ultimately borrowed from the English “lorry”, though the word is virtually Pan-Oti-Volta, and could be easily reconstructed to the protolanguage …

    Be that as it may, it has two plurals in use: lɔya (cf nɔɔr “mouth”, plural nɔya), and, somewhat more remarkably, lɔɔm, evidently modelled on the (highly irregular) plural Mɔɔm of Mɔr “Muslim.” (The irregularity probably goes back to both singular and plural forms being borrowed from Mooré, where the word goes More, plural Moeemba; the formation is uncommon in Mooré, but not as completely unparalleled as in Kusaal.)

  21. rozele: I’d say /hapaksim/ if you want to go that way (in actual Hebrew I think they use the Hebrew term.)

    Lameen: which word are you thinking of? /mexoniyot/ (plural of standard /mexonit/)? The only people who say /ʔotoʔim/ are little kids and those who speak to them.

  22. @LH: hapax is Greek, not Latin…

    Regarding octopi: Oedipus of course has the same -pus, and sometimes Classical Latin authors (Cicero, for example) used forms like the ablative Oedipo and the accusative Oedipum (http://www.zeno.org/Georges-1913/A/Oedipus?hl=oedipus).

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    Bah! That Cicero! What does he know about proper Latin?

  24. @LH: hapax is Greek, not Latin…

    Yes, but for English purposes everything is collapsed into Latin (“small Latin and less Greek” being our motto) — if we had to worry about the differences between Latin and Greek in our Anglicizing we’d get completely tongue-tied. I suppose the hapakes people were trying to show off their awareness that it was Greek in particular, but that failed spectacularly.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, if we’re going to go all Greek, the correct plural of hapax is surely hapaktes.
    (And a text with lots of them is polyhapactic.)

  26. cuchuflete says

    (All modern languages are essentially Kusaal; except Hungarian, of course.)
    And Basque, the progenitor of Welsh.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    Basque itself (of course) derives from KONGO, now known to be essentially identical to modern Kusaal in all important respects. Thus the Circle of Life is complete …

  28. Stephen C. Carlson says

    In my field, where it is used quite a bit, “hapaxes” is the standard plural in English prose. It is also borrowed from Greek (ἅπαξ λεγόμενον “once said”), not Latin.

  29. Yes, but as I said, borrowings from Greek usually pass through Latin on their way to English, so they tend to get treated according to Latin models for English purposes. And “hapaxes” is indeed the standard plural — it’s silly to object to it.

  30. Cuchuflete: I do beg your pardon! Welsh is derived from Mandan, being identical to it.

    KONGO has nothing to do with it, being Hamitic, while Welsh and Mandan are (or rather, is) Yaphetic.

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    Mandan is, of course, Welsh. Prince Madoc is well known to have been responsible.* That fine and careful scholar George Borrow confirmed it.

    KONGO cannot be Hamitic, because it has too many genders and too few cows. Have we learnt nothing from the pioneering work of Carl Meinhof?

    * His people crossed the Atlantic in stone coracles.

  32. There must be some really terrible Celtic-Metal fusion band called Stone Coracle. There must be.

  33. Jen in Edinburgh says

    This sort of reminds me of the band called Iron Midden (although I don’t think there’s anything actually metal about them).

  34. Stephen Carlson says

    But it is still misleading to talk about the “Latin adverb hapax” since (a) it isn’t Latin at all and (b) those who use Latin models to form English plurals of classical-looking nouns don’t realize it’s an adverb (jocular usage excepted, except those also follow Greek models).

  35. There is an argument for “octopi”, because “octopus” is a Latin word. Not ancient Latin, but modern Latin, because it is the name of a species. Besides, I like the sound of it.

    I don’t care for the sound of “platypi”, so I’ll stick with “platypuses”.

    What is it that roareth thus? Can it be a motorbus?
    Yes, the noise and hideous hum indicat motorem bum …
    , etc.

    Back when pterodactyls filled our skies, there was a computer called a Vax, and people proposed that the plural form should be “vaxen”. A good old time-honoured English pluralization method, after all. So enough of these foreign suffixes (suffices?). What’s wrong with plain old English “hapaxen”?

  36. Free association brought me to think of Hapag-Lloyd, an odd name I’ve seen on large trucks. It’s an international shipping company with a long history. Hapag is an acronym for Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Aktien-Gesellschaft; Lloyd is an early 19th-century German term for a shipping company, deriving from Lloyd’s of London but with no other connection with it. In this case, the name came from Norddeutscher Lloyd, which merged with Hapag.

  37. Stu Clayton says

    Over the years there have been several Hapags-Lloyd of different legal status.

  38. @maidhc: As someone just old enough to have used a VAX machine for scientific computations,* I remember wondering how the exotic plural should be cased. Since the name was a trademark in all capitals (short for “Virtual Address eXtension”), is the plural “VAXen” or “VAXEN”? (I personally preferred the former.)

    * Apparently, Compaq was still making VAX machines up through, having acquired the line with the company’s ultimately disastrous purchase of Digital Equipment Corporation in 1998. However, when I was working on the VAX in 1994, it was already an outdated legacy system; the dedicated scientific computing machines were being replaced by DEC’s next-generation, 64-bit Alphas.

  39. But it is still misleading to talk about the “Latin adverb hapax”

    Yes, of course you’re right; I let my sloppy use of “Latinity” to indicate knowledge of classical tongues carry me away. I’ve fixed it now.

  40. Stu: Hapag-Llöyde?

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    Hapag-Lloyd is already plural.* The singular is Hapag-Lloyg (cf Kusaal fuug “shirt”, fuud “shirts.”)

    * A pluralis majestatis.

  42. Related to Lloegyr?

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    No doubt … (with the Old Norse nominative singular -r added by analogy, of course.)

  44. Tangentially, I was recently dumbfounded to learn that there are people (well, at least one person, the interviewee in this podcast episode) who pronounce the plural of illness as illnesseez.

    First they came for the Latin loanwords, and I did not speak out…

    (The plural of hapax is of course polypax.)

  45. January First-of-May says

    I used to joke that the plural of hapax legomenon should be hapaces legomenon. I wonder if this form is actually attested outside my jokes. (Vaguely recall I found an example at some point…)

    [EDIT: none of that form in particular but several of closely related forms, apparently.]

  46. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Brett Altschul:

    Since the name was a trademark in all capitals (short for “Virtual Address eXtension”), is the plural “VAXen” or “VAXEN”?

    Neither: the proper plural is VVAAXX.

  47. @Giacomo: i believe that’s the dual.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    “Virtual address extension” refers to the doubling of addressable memory that the VAX architecture achieved. If it were doubled again, we would have a VAXVAX architecture. This is a double, not a dual. It’s not even a dual in the mathematical sense.

    This business of plurals is familiar but a little odd when I think closer about it. The concepts of “an X” and “many X” operate with the concepts of “one” and “kind of”. An X is one of an X kind. Many Xs are many ones of an X kind.

    Thank you for your attention.

  49. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed, the notion of “plural” is parasitic on the concept that two (or more) individuals may be, in some sense, “the same”, a philosophical can of worms of ever there was.

    Plato addresses this so-called “apples and pears” issue in his celebrated aporetic dialogue Epaminondas; though many have felt that Socrates simply browbeats the hapless sophist into submission*, and cannot be said to have the better argument.

    * At one point he implies that Epaminondas has actually regressed in understanding since he was born.

    I see that Mark LIberman has recently been concerned with this issue; though it must be said that his argument does not go far enough; surely it is not merely generic plurals which are problematic?


  50. Stu Clayton says

    his celebrated aporetic dialogue Epaminondas

    I was not invited to that celebration. Of course I knew that “damit stehen wir unmittelbar vor dem Eidos, der Idee” as quoted in DWDS [Natorp, Paul: Platons Ideenlehre. In: Philosophie von Platon bis Nietzsche, Berlin: Directmedia Publ. 2000 [1903], S. 6067]. Six thousand Esses, count’ em ! But are they statistically significant ?

    From Liberman:
    out of more than 300 million Americans, maybe 50,000 to 500,000 have a solid grasp of the … statistical concepts and skills [relevant to the evaluation and comparison of sampled properties of groups]

    Damn right ! That’s why it is impertinent and immoral, on the part of the media, to browbeat the public with statistics in support of some claims or other. Instead they should pay $5 to each person who accepts a claim. Money talks, not medians.

    As he says:
    But the vast majority of generic statements have no connection to “science” – they’re just regular people expressing facts about the world around us (or at least what we think are facts).

    My analysis of headlines in online American news outlets reveals that about half of them are reports of people telling other people what to think, and about half are reports of how much ad money is being spent to that end. There is not enough coverage of puppies rescued from distress.

  51. Stu Clayton says

    Wait a minute, there is no “Epaminondas” dialog by Plato. That was the guy who busted the Spartans at Leuktra with 150 butt-buddies:

    # Der griechische Historiker Xenophon, ein Zeitzeuge, der als Söldnerführer und früherer Offizier in spartanischen Diensten die militärischen Verhältnisse genau kannte, hat Epaminondas’ Schlachtplan bei Leuktra präzise beschrieben. Danach massierte der Thebaner seine besten Truppen auf dem linken Flügel. Im Kern handelte es sich um die Heilige Schar, die von Pelopidas befehligt wurde. Diese Truppe bestand aus 150 schwulen Paaren, deren Beziehungen für einen besonderen Zusammenhalt sorgen sollten. #

  52. Stu Clayton says


    # Aristotle as a boy’s name is of Greek origin, and means “the best of all,” from the phrase “aristos totalis.” Made famous by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, this name may give baby some pretty big boots to fill. #

  53. Rozele, hay más que dos estados en los EEUU.

  54. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    The VAX doubled the number of address bits available. (Almost: User mode programs could only access 2 Gibibytes of virtual memory). But the ‘virtual’ part was that it supported demand paging for legacy PDP-11 code — the PDP-11 had up to 22 physical address lines and 8 (eight!) page entries, and supervisors like RT-11/XM and TSX would run two or up to ten processes with all of their logical address space mapped to “high” memory, given the hardware — but it had to be pre-allocated. So maybe the “extension” part was a white lie: 16-bit PDP-11 code didn’t get more logical address space, and 32-bit native VAX code always had more logical than physical.

    The VAX-11/785 at U of Copenhagen was delivered with 2 Mebibytes of RAM but we got it upgraded to 12 later. So it must have had at least 24 physical address lines.

  55. Over the years there have been several Hapags-Lloyd of different legal status.
    Obviously, otherwise it would be Hapax-Lloyd.

  56. Stu Clayton says

    … the ‘virtual’ part was that it supported demand paging for legacy PDP-11 code … So maybe the “extension” part was a white lie: 16-bit PDP-11 code didn’t get more logical address space

    I’m not quite sure what you mean with this combination of “demand paging” and “logical address space”.

    I understand demand paging to be a runtime mechanism, invoked by the operating system, that as needed (“on demand”) swaps blocks of code/data between faster and slower memory (main/disk). This enables multiple processes to “run simultaneously” – that is, despite that fact that they and their data would not all fit simultaneously into main memory.

    Programmers can’t “demand” this mechanism. They can only write long programs to access long arrays (for example), and thus force the OS to page at runtime. They can force paging, but not demand it. Paging of the kind you seem to be talking about is a mechanism for resolving resource contention at runtime, not a development-time mechanism.

    By “logical address space” I suppose you mean the size of addresses that programmers can declare in their code. Are you saying that PDP-11 code newly written was still restricted to declaring 16-bit addresses even through intended to run on the new 32-bit architecture? Then “virtual address extension” would indeed be a white lie.

    An airline company could claim that they provide virtual seating extensions for their BIB (broad-in-the-beam) customers. This might be called a white lie if BIB customers had to page – that is, since the seats are only one BIB bun wide, could sit on only one bun at a time, switching back and forth between left and right buns (“bunning”). Logical bun space would remain unchanged at 1 BIBB.

  57. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I mean demand paging in the sense that all parts of the logical address space of a process are not necessarily mapped to physical memory at any given time, but when an unmapped address is accessed the OS is invoked with enough information that it can provide a “new” empty page or read (“page”) in data that the process had earlier put at that address and resume the process which is none the wiser. (Except for timing, of course).

    And yes, the VAX-11 series could load and execute un-modified PDP-11 programs, but that didn’t come with a version of the PDP-11 instruction set that could access more than a 16-bit address space — registers were still 16-bit as well. Not like the eternally expanding register sets of the Intel architecture. If you wanted 32 bits, compile to native VAX code.

    The “real” PDP-11 architecture didn’t support demand paging; my guess is that there wasn’t enough context saved if a paging register was invalid and an interrupt was triggered. So the programmer or the language runtime or the OS had to make sure in advance that all memory accesses hit a valid mapping. When VAX/VMS was executing a PDP-11 program, however, it would be able to allow some part of memory to be swapped to disk and paged back in “on demand”.

  58. @Keith:

    but the EEUU is a special case, being 50 in 1 and 1 in 50, through the homoousion (or possibly homoöusion?) of statehood. the mysteries involved seem infinite: although hamilton and his miaphysites carried the day at the council of philadelphia, we seem currently to be having a resurgence of dyophysitism unequaled since the ephesian settlement of 1865, despite the resolutely chalcedonian endeavors of the 20th century.

  59. @LH: hapax is Greek, not Latin…

    Maybe we could just all agree to use semel dictum instead. Easier to say at any rate.

  60. Yes, I’ve addressed that, thank you.

  61. When I am Grand Vizier, I’m going to decree that they be called “singular words”. There will be much rejoicing, feasts, etc.

    And then you could also talk about singular grammatical constructions or what have you.

  62. What are its earlierst attestations? (apart of : “1654 J. Trapp Minor Prophets 605 ‘Tis ἄπαξ λεγόµενον read only here: and hence this variety of interpretations.”)

    And why did Trapp choose this greek phrase?

  63. TLF:

    “Expr. utilisée dans un texte angl. en 1654 : JOHN TRAPP, Annotations upon the Old and New Testament, IV, 605 ds NED Suppl.2.”

  64. Michael Hendry says

    A bit of a tangent, but:

    I’m old enough to have had friends and relatives working with and on Vax computers, though I never did. One of them told me that the name Vax was only copyrighted (patented? whichever) in North America: in the U.K. a vacuum cleaner company owned it. He also told me that anyone who could get hold of a genuine full-sized like-new poster for the vacuum cleaner could auction it off to Vax programmers in the U.S. for a very large sum of money. They were in great demand, because the vacuum cleaner advertising slogan was “Nothing sucks like a Vax”.

  65. copyrighted (patented? whichever)

    My understanding is that a trademark for a vacuum cleaner and a like one for a computer can exist side by side, since there is no risk of a consumer being deceived by the name to buy one instead of the other. Likewise, you can open a Microsoft ice cream shop or an Exxon yoga studio (though you’d likely still have to pay to fend off frivolous lawsuits by the behemoths).

  66. @Y: Under current U. S. law, there are exceptions to that rule for “famous” trademarks (like—presumably—”Microsoft” or “Exxon”). One of the lawyers can surely provide more details, but my understanding is that a sufficiently well-known trademark can have a certain amount of protection from being reused even by entities engaging completely different areas of commerce.

  67. in the U.K. a vacuum cleaner company owned [VAX]

    True that. Brits programming on VAX (I was one) had several running gags: VAX sux vs VAX’ll blow you away. There were also several infra plays on ‘blow job’.

  68. And why did Trapp choose this greek phrase?

    Trapp’s use of the phrase can be seen at the top of page 605 here. His commentary is on the word מְצִלּוֹת məṣillôṯ (KJV, bells; bells or jingles of some sort) in Zechariah 14:20:

    בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה עַל־מְצִלּוֹת הַסּוּס קֹדֶשׁ לַיהוָה

    bayyôm hahûʾ yihyeh ʿal-məṣillôṯ hassûs qōḏeš laYHWH

    In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD

    The term ἅπαξ λεγόμενον seems to have been common already in the previous century, in 16th century Western European textual criticism, but even then, it was old in Greek philology. It occurs, for example, in Scholium A on the Iliad, in a comment on a speech in the Iliad (3.39–57), in which Hector hectors Paris for his cowardice and uses several rare words and dis legomena to diss him. This use of the term can be seen here in the manuscript Venetus A, at end of the third and beginning of the fourth lines in smaller writing from the top of 43r:

    …πολλὰ δέ
    ἐστιν ἅπαξ λεγόμενα παρὰ τῷ ποιητῇ

    there are many hapax legomena in the Poet [Homer]

  69. Stu Clayton says

    Thus “hapax legomenon” is not itself one.

    As Mr. Bible put it in a slightly more general way, there is nothing new under the sun.

  70. An interesting discussion of terms similar to hapax legomenon in medieval Hebrew philology is Frederick E. Greenspahn (1979) ‘The Meaning of ‘Ein Lo Domeh and Similar Phrases in Medieval Biblical Exegesis’ AJS Review vol. 4, online here. (Also on JSTOR.)

  71. Western Algerian Arabic has luṭu (l’auto), plural lwaṭa.

    Do these terms ever give occasion to obscene puns? At the other corner of the Arabophone world, in Mardin, I would feel odd just saying [luːtˤu] (and in something like اركب اللوطو, forget about it!).

  72. Michael Hendry: “Nothing sucks like a Vax”.

    Would’ve been nice if it’d been true, but the line was used by a different company: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”.

  73. David L. Gold says

    Frederick E. Greenspahn notes that “there are phrases such as millah yeḥidah which are closer to hapax legomenon” (p. 61).

    Today, מילה יחידאית (millah yeḥidait), the term used by the Academy of the Hebrew Language (https://hebrew-academy.org.il/keyword/%D7%99%D6%B0%D7%97%D6%B4%D7%99%D7%93%D6%B8%D7%90%D6%B4%D7%99/), is widespread.

    After clicking that URL, enter מילה יחידאית in the search bar and then scroll down to this sentence:

    חלק דיבר, שם תואר. שורש, יחד. נטייה, יחידָאִית. הגדרה. שמָצוּי פַּעם אַחת בלבד, כגון מילה יחידאית (בטֶקסט מסוים)

  74. @Xerîb, thank you!

    I expected something like this, but the OED confused me:/

  75. “@LH: hapax is Greek, not Latin…

    Yes, but for English purposes everything is collapsed into Latin (“small Latin and less Greek” being our motto)”


    If the implication of the second paragraph above is that the English plural hapaxes was formed on some Latin model, I beg to disagree and suggest that it was formed on the model of certain English count nouns ending in /ks/, such as boxes, foxes, sixes (as in “be at sixes and sevens”), and exes (as in “All his exes are getting generous alimony payments”).

    Just in case there is any misunderstanding, my reference to phonemes (“/ks/”) implies that spelling was not involved in the choice of the plural hapaxes, which is easily explained phonologically.

  76. If the implication of the second paragraph above is that the English plural hapaxes was formed on some Latin model

    No, it’s the plural hapaces that’s formed on a Latin model. Hapaxes is, of course, straight English.

  77. Would’ve been nice if it’d been true, but the line was used by a different company: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”.

    By both, actually. Electrolux, a Swedish company with many names but (allegedly) a single nature, had abandoned the slogan many years before Vax plc ltd adopted it; after 103 years in the business Electrolux have probably gone through a lot of slogans. In Vax’s case, it referred to the vacuum’s ability to deal with liquid spills and even to wash carpets. James Dyson originally licensed his vacuum cleaner to Vax, although they went their separate ways before too long.

    When I first moved into Gale’s apartment in 1981, she was in possession of an ancient Electrolux which looked much like this 1937 model. It came with a hose, two metal wands, and a small device resembling a brush attachment but solid metal, with no bristles, which due to the high suction power was mostly quite sufficient. It was excellent for cleaning an apartment which can best be described as all corners and irregularities. (We still live in that apartment, but thanks to rehab work in the 90s it is now somewhat over 50% larger.) It had a dirt-catching bag made of cloth with a strap on the outside of the fundus which you emptied instead of discarding. When I realized how old the vacuum was, I contacted Electrolux in the U.S. and asked them if they wanted to take pictures of it or something for their marketing department; the reply was “We don’t really have a marketing department any more.” I suppose people just buy Electroluxes because their grandparents did or something.

    The Vermont Country Store, a catalog / online retailer of Oddball Stuff that actually descends institutionally from an actual Vermont general store, was able to supply me with some more attachments and a replacement hose after duck-taping the old hose ceased to be workable. Our cleaning lady, who comes in once a week and spends about two hours in a whirlwind of cleaning and organizing, prefers a broom, so the old Electrolux is now in the country house in honorable retirement — I clean up there with a conventional upright vacuum (type A disposable bags).

  78. J.W. Brewer says

    It’s perhaps worth noting that this is an instance of a very common pattern in English – a noun phrase gets clipped down to its first word, which then gets treated as a noun, including for purposes of pluralization, even if it was not a noun in the full NP. So, e.g. “final examination” gets clipped to “final” which gets pluralized as “finals.” The only thing that’s odd here to the classically-educated is that, in the original Greek, the “noun” in the NP is a participle, and although participles get declined as if they were nouns,* they are still (at least sometimes?) modified by adverbs, which don’t get declined as if they were adjectives. But in English we don’t decline adjectives at all (it’s not “finals examinations” even though in Latin or Greek the adjective would be pluralized to match the plural noun), so nothing weird is happening from an English perspective. Obviously any non-jocular plural of clipped “hapax” other than “hapaxes” that treats it as if a Latin/Greek noun is ignoring the well-established English pattern for pluralizing clipped NP’s and thereby asking for trouble.

    *Okay, okay, technically they get declined as adjectives but can then freely be used as nouns on that pattern where “the ADJ” means “the ADJ [person/thing].”

  79. John Cowan, my mother had one of those Electroluces.

  80. a trademark for a vacuum cleaner and a like one for a computer can exist side by side

    there are exceptions to that rule for “famous” trademarks

    Even having a famous trademark is not enough if the name has already developed a separate generic sense. That’s what happened to “spam”: Hormel tried and failed to prevent the trademark for Spam Arrest software. The trademark board agreed that Hormel’s brand was indeed “famous”, but only in the context of canned food; in the computing context it was already generic.

    (I’m not any kind of lawyer, I just read about it here; if that page demands registration before showing the contents, try an archived or Google-cached copy.)

  81. J.W. Brewer says

    FWIW, the general notion (when you’ve got a sufficiently famous mark) is that even use for an unrelated product/service unlikely to constitute actual infringement (because unlikely to cause actual consumer confusion as to the source/sponsorship of the product/service) can constitute “dilution,” which is its own separate thing you can sue for at least in some jurisdictions, currently including the U.S.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark_dilution (not the clearest wiki article, but you can probably google up clearer explanations). How famous is famous (under U.S. federal law)? Well, a somewhat vague definition and list of relevant factors can be found in subsection (c)(2)(A) of this statutory provision. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/1125

  82. “The plural of ‘I’ is said to be ‘we’, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary [viz. the Devil’s].”


Speak Your Mind