In a word: Boustrophedon

July 05, 2011

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


Copy editors come in for scorn for their supposed obsession with commas, but punctuation is something for which you should be grateful. The texts of classical Greek and Latin were written without punctuation, the words running together. Greek was written with alternating lines of right-to-left and left-to-right, a form of writing called boustrophedon (pronounced boo-struh-FEE-dun).

It is called that because the lines of text mimic the furrows created when plowing with an ox. The word comes from bous, "ox," and strophe, "a turning," from strephein, "to turn."

Example: One of Barbara Pym's excellent women walks boustrophedon among the pews, tidying up the church after a service.

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