Word of the Day : October 14, 2010

boustrophedon

play
noun boo-struh-FEE-dahn

Definition

: the writing of alternate lines in opposite directions (as from left to right and from right to left)

Did You Know?

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."

Quick Quiz: What "strephein" descendent means "a great disaster or misfortune"? The answer is ...


Examples

The archaeologist was quick to see that the text was written in boustrophedon.

"Some writing systems, like the ancient Greeks' boustrophedon, in which alternate lines are read in opposite directions, appear to actually support these pre-literary inclinations." -- From an article in The Economist (U.S. Edition), July 10, 2010




Podcast


More Words of the Day

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!