WOW #54

Boustrophedon

Here’s another in a long line of words that you’ll never use in polite company – or in any company, I would imagine.

BOUSTROPHÉDON

Languages that are written in the Greek, Cyrillic, or Latin alphabets, are written from left to right. It only makes sense. 90% of people are right-handed, and the right arm moves away from what is being written. Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese are written from the top down, vertically. At least they’re getting out of their own way.

Forgive me for being un-PC, but languages like Hebrew and Arabic are just stupid. Both cultures – Arabs worse than Jews – make a big deal about being left-handed. Somehow it’s evil, allied to Shaitan, The Devil. Yet these languages are written from right to left. It’s only in the last 75 years that technology has partly rescued them, with instant-drying ballpoint ink, and word processors. Before that, writers’ arms covered what had just been written, smudging or smearing the pen or quill ink.

Cuneiform

Boustrophedon is a Greek name for some of the much earlier Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform type of ‘writing.’   This was just wedge-shaped marks, pushed into soft clay tablets. Back and forth – to and fro. Since there was no ink to smudge, a line would be entered from left to right. Then the writer would just drop down a line, and enter the next one from right to left.

The word originally just referred to that form of writing, but the meaning, in Greek, is “oxen turning.” Nowadays, the very few times that it is used, (always by a licensed professional) it can refer to things like the back-and-forth pattern of tweed, or the appearance of an agricultural field which has been plowed – fortunately, with tractors, not oxen – back and forth, up and down, leaving a visual difference between alternating rows or strips.

7 thoughts on “WOW #54

  1. jim- says:

    “Sheep on the right, goats on the left”.
    Oxen turning, now that’s interesting…

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  2. Rivergirl says:

    Cuneiform has always looked like chicken scratch to me… but I might be slightly prejudiced.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      You haven’t seen chicken scratching until you’ve seen my essential tremor-induced handwriting. Since it had to be pushed into soft clay tablets, or incised into stone, it made carrying around a ‘book’ pretty difficult. I’ll stick with my Kindle. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome post. Funny…I have studied Persian (also written right to left), a bit of Hebrew and I’m currently studying Arabic, but never thought about the right to left ink problem (probably because I’m using modern magic pens). Did you find information about ink smudges actually being a problem? I’m asking because Arabic and Persian are known for beautiful calligraphy, so there must have been some solution to compensate. My husband is very interested in language study and enjoyed learning the word Boustrophedon. Thanks!

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    • Archon's Den says:

      The solution was to do their writing in the nude…. or, at least, bare-armed. No cowls with loose sleeves, like we see monks dressed in, in historical movies. Smudges are fairly common on old manuscripts (manu = hand, script = writing – written by hand). There is often evidence that they were scraped off, using a small, sharp knife – the knife that was used to cut the actual feather into a writing quill – giving the origin of the term, pen-knife. I’ll have more, but he could look up “Palimpsest.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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