This abbreviated glossary covers only the most commonly encountered terms. There may be exceptions to some of our definitions-our main concern is to provide you with general concepts relative to commonly used rare book jargon.
Agnus Dei (Latin ‘Lamb of God’), a figure of a lamb bearing a cross or a flag.
Apocrypha (from a Greek word meaning ‘hidden’), books excluded from the Hebrew Bible, but preserved in the Greek and Latin versions of the Old Testament. They are also known as the ‘Deuterocanon.’
Benedictus (Latin word meaning ‘blessed’), also known as the ‘Canticle of Zechariah,’ one of the three canticles in the opening chapters of Gospel of Luke, so named after its first word in the Latin Vulgate.
Cantillated (ultimately from Latin cantare ‘chant, sing’), including notations that allow the reader to chant the text according to synagogue ritual
Colophon (from a Greek word meaning ‘summit, finishing touch’), a note at the end of a manuscript or printed book including the title, the name of the author, the name of the scribe or printer, date and place of publication, etc.
Diglot (from a Greek word meaning ‘speaking two languages’), a book including the same text in two languages.
Duodecimo (from a Latin word meaning ‘twelfth’), size of a book in which each leaf is one-twelfth of a whole sheet.
Folio (from a Latin word meaning ‘leaf’), size of a book in which each leaf is one-half of a whole sheet.
Frontispiece illustration facing the title page of a book or of one of its selections.
Magnificat (Latin word meaning ‘magnifies’), one of the three canticles in the opening chapters of Gospel of Luke, so named after its first word in the Latin Vulgate.
Masora, masoretic (adapted from a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”), the body of traditional information relating to the text of the Hebrew Bible, compiled by Jewish scholars in the tenth and preceding centuries; the collection of critical notes in which this information is preserved.
Octavo (from a Latin word meaning ‘eighth’), size of a book in which each leaf is one-eighth of a whole sheet.
Pentateuch (adapted from the Greek word πεντάτευχος “of five books”), name for the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis-Deuteronomy).
Pointed (of texts written in Hebrew alphabet), indicating the presence of vowel sounds through a system of marks placed in the immediate vicinity of a given consonant
Polyglot (from a Greek word meaning ‘speaking many languages’), book including the same text in more than two languages.
Quarto (from a Latin word meaning ;fourth’), size of a book in which each leaf is one-fourth of a whole sheet
Septuagint (from a Latin word meaning ‘seventy’), name given to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made in Alexandria during the 3rd century BCE and later. Tradition attributed it to seventy-two translators.
Tetragrammaton (from a Greek word meaning ‘consisting of four letters’), the four Hebrew letters, YHWH, in the name of God, which the Jews ceased to pronounce about three centuries BCE out of reverence or for fear of desecration.
Vulgate (from a Latin word meaning ‘published’), name given to the Latin translation of the Bible made by Jerome between 382 and 405 based on the original languages and on existing Latin translations.
Unpointed (of texts written in Hebrew alphabet), lacking the system of marks that indicate the presence of vowel sounds