This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Nuts and Bolts: the final frontier.

Jingles, that great friend of The Word Den, got me thinking with her comment on last week's camelcase post.

Jingles' comment ended like this:


So: why do we have spaces between our words?

Well, as Jingles has shown us, if you can mark the beginning of a word in some other way you don't need them.

In Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, nearly every word had a  determiner attached to it (that was a sign that meant something like their or this or bunch) and these acted as word dividers.

Traditionally, Chinese, Japanese and Korean are written without spaces (though Korean has quite taken to them in recent years). In Chinese, at least, where each character is more or less a word,  obviously word-end signs aren't necessary.

It's when you come to systems with an alphabet that things get harder. In cuneiform a vertical stroke or a diagonally sloping wedge was used to separate words. Ethiopic inscriptions used a vertical line, but manuscripts used double dots like our colon. Early Greek and Latin also used to put dots (single ones) between their words, but then they went through a stage of not bothering to mark where words began at all. By about 600AD, however, spaces were beginning to be used in Latin (firstly by Irish monks) and now all languages that use a Roman alphabet use spaces.

But spaces are not the final frontier.

The Nastaʿlīq form of Arabic calligraphy separates words by beginning of each word higher on the page than the end of the preceding word. Nastaʿlīq has spread across the world and today is used for Persian, Uyghur, Pashto, and Urdu.

You know, I'm beginning to wonder if using spaces isn't a little...dull.

And now we have keyboards it's as easy to press a key as a space.



Thing To Do Today: wonder if space really is the final frontier.

The word space has been around more or less forever. In Latin it was spatium.


  1. Oh goodness me, what did I start! :)
    Please don't let it happen!!
    Not only would my poor old eyes go cross-eyed, but can you imagine how hard it would be to interpret anything written/typed by those who use text talk all the time (which I abhor!).! :)
    Would giving up spaces also mean goodbye to commas, apostrophes, etc.?

    1. Spaces have been with us for an unbroken stretch of nearly one and a half thousand years, Jingles, so let's hope they manage to hold on a bit longer. They're a fine minimalist invention, like the concept of zero, and no one's suggesting doing away with that.
      At least, I hope not.

  2. No, no, no, no, and an emphatic, space-divided no!

    1. As in N O O O O O O O O O ! ?
      Oh dear. But that's so practical. And normal. And sane.
      Ah well, perhaps sanity does have its advantages.