This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Nuts and Bolts: opisthographic.

The exam season...actually, I've pretty-much missed it, haven't I? Oh the bliss of a June without exams.

Still, opisthographic. I'm doing a public service, here, because anyone who knows this word will be much less likely to experience one of the worst exam horrors of all.


So you do, and find you have an hour to spare. So you go through all your answers once or twice and then sit back wondering why everyone else is still scribbling away frantically. And then, with five minutes to go, you pick up the question sheet to place it neatly on the side of your desk...and you see something.

Something terrible.

It's something so terrible, indeed, that it makes your whole insides jerk with horror, flail helplessly around for several seconds vainly looking for a chance to escape, and then flop down somewhere low and cold and quivering inside you.

What have you seen?

A horrid, quiver-inducing shadow on the question paper.

You hardly dare, but...


There are more questions on the other side of the paper.

You now have four minutes to go, you have three questions to answer, and you have an awful conviction that you have just destroyed your entire future. But you start scribbling frantically anyway.

If only, if only, you'd known the meaning of opisthographic.

Word To Bear In Mind, Especially During Exams: opisthographic. This word comes from the Latin opisthographus, from the Greek opisthographos. The opisth- bit means behind, and the -graphus bit is to do with writing.

Something opisthographic has writing on both sides.


  1. I never understood the convention of writing 'PTO' at the bottom of a handwritten letter (as I was taught as a young nipper), as if anyone would be gaily reading your missive to suddenly think you'd stopped mid-sentence:

    " ... and we all had such fun in Weymouth, including a rather amusing incident with Aunt Edna who, in an amusingly quaint misunderstanding with the pool boy, accidentally asked him to ..."

    Oh. They just stopped. Mid-sentence. Oh hang on! This letter is opisthographic! Now why didn't they write 'PTO' at the end of the page to tell me so! My family, eh? Tsk.

    1. You had relations who could write?
      Well, there's posh.
      As for Aunt Edna, I bet she had the pool boy snookered.