bou·​stro·​phe·​don ˌbü-strə-ˈfē-ˌdän How to pronounce boustrophedon (audio)
: the writing of alternate lines in opposite directions (as from left to right and from right to left)
boustrophedon adjective or adverb
boustrophedonic adjective

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Before the standardization of writing from left to right, ancient Greek inscribers once used a style called boustrophedon, a word meaning literally "turning like oxen in plowing." When they came to the end of a line, the ancient Greeks simply started the next line immediately below the last letter, writing the letters and words in the opposite direction, and thus following the analogy of oxen plowing left to right, then right to left. Reverse boustrophedon writing has also been found in which the inscribers turned the document 180 degrees before starting a new line so that the words are always read left to right with every half turn. The word boustrophedon itself is formed from the Greek word for the ox or cow, bous, and the verb strephein, which means "to turn."

Word History


Greek boustrophēdon, adverb, literally, turning like oxen in plowing, from bous ox, cow + strephein to turn — more at cow

First Known Use

1699, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of boustrophedon was in 1699


Dictionary Entries Near boustrophedon

Cite this Entry

“Boustrophedon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.

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