1) Infinitely sharp; possessing an edge (or tip) of zero thickness.
2) Tending, or possessing a tendency, to decapitate. (slang)
-= Usage and Etymology =-
In RPGs (role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons and the Final Fantasy series), "vorpal" is an adjective describing and referring to a bladed (slashing) weapon that has been magically enchanted in order to imbue it with an edge that is infinitely sharp (or, significantly rarer, a similarly-imbued pointed (stabbing) weapon with an infinitely sharp tip). The result of a vorpal enchantment, which is achieved foremost through the casting of a magic spell by a sufficiently powerful mage (a wizard or enchanter, for example), is the melding of the actual edge of the (almost always) metal blade with the addition of a new, extended edge, which is not only composed of a substance of a magical and nearly impervious nature, but, as the outer limit of the new magical edge is approached, decreases in thickness until the two sides meet at what is literally a mathematical line of zero thickness. Such a blade is, in reality, obviously impossible, due to the fact that, the nonexistence of magic considered, the size of the particles that matter is made up of are, although very small, most certainly nonzero.
There are no degrees of vorpality; it is an absolute. A blade is either vorpal, or it is not. Additionally, and perhaps counterintuitively, a blade can be vorpal regardless of its angle. The numerical degree value of the angle of a vorpal blade can be (and, for the greatest effectiveness in battle, almost always is) very small, but it is entirely possible for the angle to be very large, including, technically, even angles in excess of 180° (although such constructs are never seen due to the lack of practical application for something with such an enchantment on an angle of that magnitude, atleast in comparison to the time, resources, and skill required to vorpalize an object); the only relevant factor is that the edge's angle can be viewed and will subsequently appear identical at any magnification whatsoever, without the edge ever losing integrity or becoming rounded off, a condition that, at sufficiently small scales, the laws of physics dictate any real blade (or, even in the realm of fantasy, any nonvorpal blade) must succumb to.
There are, in addition to blades (and the odd stiletto or arrow or chakram), other possible forms for vorpal objects. While there is seldom compelling reason in an RPG to expend the ordinarily exorbitant effort and resources necessary for the vorpalization process on objects other than weapons, or atleast something that will be used for cutting, any object at all that has an edge or a point can be vorpalized. Ordinary metalworking means, for instance, can be used to fashion a highly accurate one-foot cube of metal. Iron, gold, mithril; the type of metal is not important. Using magic, a wizard can turn a one-foot cube of iron into a one-foot vorpal cube of iron. What does that mean exactly, and what will the result be? While the faces of the cube will remain mostly unaffected, the vorpalization process will fill in any gaps and imperfections along the edges and corners, and the wizard will have a cube of iron that is not only reinforced along its edges with a virtually impenetrable magical material, but is completely and accurately one cubic foot in size. Not accurate in size to within a trillionth of a trillionth of an inch, but accurate in size to mathematical perfection.
-= Origin =-
1871, Lewis Carroll; coined in and for, and used on line nine of, the poem "Jabberwocky" (found both as a separate work of literature, and also as a part of Carroll's novel, "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There")
-= Related Forms =-
vorpality: (vor-PAL-uh-dee) - (noun): the state of being vorpal
vorpalize: (VOR-puh-lize) - (verb): to make vorpal; to imbue with vorpality
vorpalization: (VOR-puh-luh-ZAY'-shin) - (noun): the process of making vorpal
devorpalize: (de-VOR-puh-lize) - (verb): to remove or reverse a vorpal enchantment
nonvorpal: (NON-vor-pl) - (adjective): possessing finite sharpness; not vorpal
To give a lengthy example, including all of the details pertaining to the setting in which something vorpal is introduced to players, the following description is how the word would be used in the context of an in-person, board-and-dice role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons:
"As the phylactery disintegrates, a sudden, horrible scream fills the room around you, and then, much more slowly than it appeared, fades off into the distance until the hallway is overwhelmed by silence. The chest you have traveled so far for now lays at your feet, unguarded and vulnerable for the first time in its existence, while all that remains of the lich who formerly owned your newfound treasure is a few bone chips and strands of hair, and a tattered and singed royal blue robe, half-draped over the steel box.
After checking the chest for traps, you waste no time in opening it, only but a crack at first. As you lift the lid the tiniest amount, a white light, small but perceptible, spills out from behind the cracks and allows your next quick glances around the room to bring you to realize just how dark the room had been earlier.
Opening the chest fully, it is not the hoard of platinum pieces that catches your attention, nor is it the jewels scattered among them. What your eyes are immediately drawn to is the hilt of a sword, buried in the treasure up to the chappe. The pommel and crossguard have been constructed of a bluish-purple material that, in the lighting available, you cannot at first identify. You grab the sword by the grip, an unusually soft leather from the feel, and slowly withdraw it from under the mass of coins. As you do, you notice something most bizarre.
Not only does the blade have not a single scratch or imperfection on it, or atleast any visible to the naked eye, but along both edges, to various depths and in different locations and directions, the blade is embedded in half a dozen platinum coins, cut through them as if they had been made of butter.
A light reflects off of the hilt, and your gaze is averted there once again. What looked at first to be a dull cobalt, you can now see is a brilliant iridescent. As you turn the hilt this way and that, the blue and purple swim and swirl together with a small cloud of green, and you recognize it instantly. The crossguard and pommel have been fashioned out of the scales of a rainbow dragon, and an ancient wyrm at that, judging from the intense, luminous radiance of the hue. Your attention turns back to the skewered platinum coins, one of which slides off the blade as you turn it again and falls to the ground, spinning and circling your foot for a second or two before falling flat to the floor. Something in your head clicks as you realize what it is you have found.
There can be no mistake. You have discovered a vorpal sword."