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Home arrow Archived pages arrow How to search OED arrow How to search for hapax legomena
How to search for hapax legomena
Note: the search techniques described on this page are now out of date following changes to the OED Online website made in December 2010.

For a definition of the term hapax legomenon, see entry in our Glossary. Such solely attested words are marked in OED in two different ways, which are not clearly differentiated: as a 'nonce-word' (a term invented by Murray), and by the label 'rare-1'. (rare-0 indicates that the word is found only in a dictionary or word-book and not in 'real' usage). See Burchfield 1973: 7-9 and note below

  1. In the OED online, click on the ADVANCED SEARCH tab.
  2. Select the edition you wish to search from.
  3. Ensure the ENTRIES tab is selected (it should be red).
  4. Enter your author in the first search box e.g. joyce.
  5. Select FIRST CITED AUTHOR from the drop-down menu.
  6. Click START SEARCH.
  7. From your results, choose one work and note the date e.g. joyce produced 124 results in OED3; Ulysses is dated 1922. Make sure you note the exact spelling or abbreviation as it appears in the results. Some works may be shown in more than one way.
  8. Click on ADVANCED SEARCH to return to the original search page (or SEARCH if you're using OED2).
  9. Enter the work you noted in no. 7 in the second search box e.g. Ulysses.
  10. Select FIRST CITED WORK from the drop-down menu.
  11. Select AND NOT from the drop-down menu next to OPERATION B.
  12. Enter the date in the third search box. Because we are excluding all entries that are not, for example, published in 1922, enter the value as one year after your work's publication e.g. '1923-'. Be sure to include the hyphen (but not the quotation marks): this will find all the quotations dated before 1923.
  13. Select QUOTATION DATE from the drop-down menu.
  14. Click START SEARCH (joyce, ulysses and 1923- should produce 50 results: all hapax legomena i.e. no other quotation will be cited except the first one by Joyce).
Alternatively, if the author's list of results for first quotations is short enough, simply look through each entry individually. Cycle through them using the arrows at the top left-hand side of the page.

NB: entering rare 1 into the first search box on an advanced search page, and selecting FULL TEXT from the drop-down menu, will give you all the hapax legomena which are identified as such in either OED2 or OED3 (see OED2's Key to the conventions of the Dictionary under 'Superior numbers'). You can then refine your search in various ways by choosing different terms to enter in the search boxes, and using the function (in panel on right-hand side of screen) which restricts new searches to results of previous searches. However, many hapax legomena recorded in the OED are not, unfortunately, identified with this label (e.g. Tennyson's achage).
Last Updated ( Monday, 17 October 2011 )
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