Hephaestus's Blog


Word of the Month: Boustrophedon
September 17, 2015, 20:12
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology: Direct from Greek βουστροφηδόν, meaning turning like an ox, from βοῦς (bous), meaning ox, and στροφή (strophe), meaning to turn.

Definition: Writing that switches directions 180 degrees with each line. (see arrows below)

—–i-i—->

<—-i-i—–

—–i-i—->

As the name may suggest, boustrophedon is a feature of some Ancient Greek inscriptions. I couldn’t find any explanation for why people write like this, but they do, which I guess is enough.

Other examples of boustrophedonic writing include ancient scripts such as hieroglyphic Luwian, and the modern Avoiuli script from Vanuatu.

An extreme form of boustrophedon is seen in the Rongorongo script of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where the writing also turns around another way, like so:

—–i-i—->

<—-!-!—–

—–i-i—->

…that is, if it’s even writing at all. *Dun dun DUNN…*

But seriously, it’s never been deciphered, and its origins seem pretty hazy.