Zhuangzi glossary


hapax legomenoi

A hapax legomenon (plural: hapax legomenoi) Is a word that's only used once (for instance, in Homer or the Bible) and therefore impossible to decipher. Zhuangzi is littered with such words that occur nowhere else in early Chinese literature. Why? It is possible they were real but rare words. But if so, he must have known—in a time before libraries and dictionaries—that they would be unfamiliar to most of his readers. Was he trying not to be understood? But why would he do this and what does it mean? Here, too, commentators and translators go to great lengths to come up with plausible equivalents, but I think that obscures the point that he was larding the text with virtually meaningless characters. I wonder if sometimes he even makes them up, which is even funnier when you consider that they were Chinese characters. If I make up a term in English, like "splorg," you can at least read it. But when Zhuangzi makes up 𤅢, for instance, which is not a word anywhere outside of his text, it's more like a thumbprint or a scribble. What's the proper way to translate that?