One Hit Wonders

While recently reading a passage in an ancient manuscript, the linguistic comment stated that a certain portion of it was a “hapax legomenon”.

A whaaaat?

Now, I confess that I’m old enough to have valid reasons for forgetting things I have learned, so I don’t know if I learned what a “hapax legomenon” is and forgot it, or if I slept through that English class in middle school, high school and again in college or if I honestly never learned it. (Yep, it’s the teacher’s fault. ha ha)

Do you remember what it is? (It has nothing to do with legos. :-))

“hapax legomenon is an expression that occurs only once within a context: either the written record of an entire language, in the works of an author, or in a single text.”


Ohhh, got it. “One and done. Only said once. One hit wonders.” – my mind quickly translated and applied.

Here are a couple examples from literature, then we will move on to more fun ones…

  • flother – a synonym for snowflake used by Shakespease
  • honorificabilitudinitatibus – another one of the Bard’s words, who knows what it means
  • nortelrye – used by Chaucer, it means education
  • satyr – we have heard it, but it occurs only once in Shakespeare’s writings

So, you get the point.

Now, for the fun “one hit wonders”. Be they songs or inventions, these are people with only one big success to their name. They are human hapax legomenons, if you will.

Do you recall these one hit wonders?

Devo’s song – Whip it. Or The Weather Girls song, “It’s Raining Men”?

How ’bout this one from the 1981…

Emo Rubik had only one hit as well, and who hasn’t played with his Rubik’s Cube?

Did you know that the Rocket Chemical Company was trying to invent a degreaser for rockets and on the 40th try, they came up with a useful solution – they called it WD40. We have nothing else from them after that, but I bet you have a can of WD40 nearby, don’t you?

Required reading for all is “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. She made Atticus the protagonist of the century, and yet, THAT book is her one hapax legomenon.

Being a child of the 60’s, let’s go to 1969 and pull out one of my favorite one hit wonders. This one by Norman Greenbaum.

Here’s another favorite from 1985 and the band Aha.

It is amazing that most of us, if not all of us have heard of these one hit wonders. And yet, that is pretty much the only thing that the artist is known for.

Crocs, the shoe belong in that category. So does penicillin. Some even say that President James K. Polk is a one hit wonder because although he only served one term, he is the only president said to have fulfilled all of his campaign goals. Now THAT is a statement!

Winnie the Pooh’s author, a well known scholar, A. Milne, had a hard time finding work and writing again after his children’s book. Seems that “they” didn’t think that it was very scholarly.

So we can see, whether a songwriter, with the number one, one hit wonder of ALL TIME, Los del Rio’s Macarena,

Or one of the world’s richest people – “Notch”, the no name developer of the one hit wonder “MINECRAFT”, there is no shame in being a hapax legomenon.

Truly, folks, we are not expected to do everything well. We are not expected to even do many things well. But each of us can find one thing, just one, that we can do well. May your world be a better place because of the one thing that you bring to it.

May YOU be (at least) a one hit wonder, a human hapax legonmenon.

Cheers to you,


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