This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Nuts and Bolts: boustrophedon

Boustrophedon is the easiest writing in the world:


Or that's the idea, anyway.

A picture is, they say, worth a thousand words. (Actually, my estimate of the value of the illustration above is about 153 words, but, hey, it gives you the idea of how boustrophedon text works.)

Which, as far I'm concerned, isn't very well at all. I can read it, and can skip merrily over the right-way-round lines; but the alternating mirror-image lines are like trudging through mud.

This is entirely appropriate, because the word boustrophedon is to do with the path of an ox as he ploughs a field.

The idea behind boustrophedon text is that it's quick to read because the eyes have to cover the smallest amount of ground. But as the system, invented by the Hittites, died out during Ancient Greek times:


 it seems that the human mind soon found that having all the letters the same way round was much easier.

Nowadays the term is sometimes used in America for numbering sections of towns, and in the UK for describing a rather eccentric house-numbering systems.

What the numbering system of my own street is called, where No 1 is opposite No 2, but No 55 is opposite No 22, I , however, do not know.

Nothing polite, probably.

In art history, confusingly, boustrophedon means that you read a series of pictures from the bottom left.

Writing System To Be Glad You're Not Having To Use Today: boustrophedon. This word comes from the Greek words bous, which means ox and strephein, to turn.

Many thanks to Roger Prue for persuading this computer to paste the first example of boustrophedon writing into this window. You wouldn't believe how long it took.



  1. Not a word I'll be using a lot, I feel! Complicated stuff!

  2. Complex, but pleasingly logical, I think.