10 Ancient Words We’ll Probably Never Translate

A hapax legomenon is a word or phase that is unique. It appears only one time in an entire body of text. Hapax legomena can occur either in a single text or in an author’s entire works of literature, and they appear in ancient languages—Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Old English—as well as in computer science programming languages. No one can be sure of the exact meaning of these 10 instances of hapex legomena, so we can only guess their definitions based on limited context clues.

10 Aeppelfealu Old English

It’s Not Greek T... Friel, Todd Best Price: $100.00 (as of 10:40 UTC - Details) Aeppelfealu appears exactly once in the entire existing Old English canon, in Beowulf. The author of Beowulf, whose identity itself is a mystery, probably combined the words appel (meaning apple) and fealo (a word that refers to a variety of colors) to create the compound word aeppelfealu. In context, the word describes the color of horses, so we know it’s a very specific adjective.

Because apples come in a spectrum of colors, from green to red to multi-hued, we can’t be sure what specific color the author meant with this word. Additionally, scholars don’t agree on the exact definition of fealo. It refers to different colors in different contexts—a pale yellow or golden color that shades into red, brown, or even green. In context, aeppelfealu probably refers to a yellowish green that gradually fades into a specific shade of light brown or burgundy, but we can’t be sure.

Emodulanda Latin

The word emodulanda appears in Ovid’s “Amores,” published in 16 B.C. In the “Amores,” Ovid presents love poetry in elegiac couplets about his crush on a girl named Corinna. Occurring in the last line in Book 1.1, emodulanda is a gerundive—the future passive participle verb form—that does not appear anywhere else in all of Latin literature.

In context, Ovid is telling his audience that love rather than war will be the topic of his poetry, and that elegiac couplets are the appropriate meter with which to describe romantic love. Ovid emphasizes the word emodulanda by boldly placing it near the middle of the line of poetry, but scholars haven’t reached a consensus about its meaning.

Some classicists think it’s synonymous with the verb modulor, meaning “to sing in a rhythm,” and Ovid simply needed the extra syllable to fit the meter. Other classicists, however, point out that Ovid and his peers purposefully used the e/ex prefix to indicate a completeness or fullness. So, the exact meaning ofemodulanda remains elusive, but Ovid probably uses it to convey his feeling that his elegiac couplets are the best, most complete way to sing and celebrate his muse, Corinna.

8 Bacciballum Latin

Bacciballum is a Latin noun of uncertain origin and meaning that appears in The Satyricon, a satirical Roman novel written by Gaius Petronius Arbiter during the reign of the emperor Nero. In a section about a banquet hosted by Trimalchio, a former slave and member of the nouveau riche, Petronius criticizes Trimalchio’s tacky, ostentatious display of wealth. In context, bacciballum is an adjective that refers to the beautiful Melissa from Tarentum, a Greek colony in southern Italy. Some scholars believe that bacciballum is a vulgar colloquialism that refers to an attractive woman, like a “piece.” Other scholars think the word is a diminutive of bacca, a Latin word meaning “berry” or “pearl,” and refers to Melissa’s juicy plumpness or round shape. We may never know exactly what Latin slang likebacciballum means, but it’s probably a crude word to compliment a woman’s appearance.

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