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gloss[Gr.,=tongue], explanatory note on a word or words of a text, usually written between the lines or in a margin of a manuscript. In copying a manuscript, a copyist sometimes incorporated a gloss in the text, so that the copy departed from the original. The gloss may be in a language different from that of the text. Old glosses on the Bible have value as evidence of tradition, as have glosses in civil and canon law.
(1) Translation or explanation of an incomprehensible word or expression, primarily in the works of ancient writers. Glosses were first used by the Greeks in the study of Homer’s poetry. The so-called Homeric glosses of the Alexandrian period (Zenodotus of Ephesus) enjoyed wide renown. Later, glosses were used mainly in the explication of individual biblical passages and of juridical texts. The so-called Malberg Gloss, which is composed of separate Frankish words and expressions joined to the Latin text of the Salic Law, is the most ancient monument of the German language, and the Reichenau Glosses, which were attached to the Latin Bible, are the first monument of the French language. Since the 17th century, glosses have been studied as valuable linguistic material.
(2) In Old Spanish poetry, a poem consisting of four stanzas (mainly the décima) and the four-line epigraph (called a motto) preceding them, each line of which completed the corresponding stanza. An example is the poem “On the Beauty Unhappy in Marriage” by C. de Castillejo.