I can’t complain about Page 31 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. How can you fault a page that gives you a word as great as “boustrophedon.”
This Article Will Not Use Boustrophedon
Truthfully, I really wanted to do a word I know really, really well: bourgeois. But maybe not, because these Odd Words articles are really more about talking about the words that I don’t use. So let me talk about “bourgeois.”
I remember knowing this word when I was very young — five years or less? It was a fun word because it sounded so weird. My sister and I would repeat, “That’s so bourgeois!” We must have heard that phrase somewhere. To us it meant more or less tasteless. I was shocked in my teens to learn the word in its proper context as a class construct.
Of course, I have to admit, that I still do have something of an attitude about middle class tastes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an attitude about proletariat tastes too. Much of my artistic thinking is involved with the creation of art that is both fun but challenging. The essence of bourgeois taste is that it is comfortable; it tells people that the way things are is just fine. I don’t think that.
I’m So Bourgeois!
The problem is: that is such a bourgeois way of thinking. Sure, it isn’t the standard bourgeois thinking. But it is clearly the thinking of a member of that class. And I know that if I ever find an audience for my work, it will be the bourgeoisie. Someone quite like me will say, “That’s so bourgeois!” It’s a good thing I love contradiction!
Okay, on to a truly wondrous word: boustrophedon:
1. writing in which alternate lines read in opposite directions.
Date: early 17th century.
Origin: from Greek, βόδι, which means “ox,” and στροφος, which means “turn.” So: the ox turns — as in plowing a field.
Example: The inscription is believed to be older than the inscription he found in the Maruthom forest area of Kasaragod, which, he said, was boustrophedon style, and the scripts found at Edakkal in Wayanad. —The Hindu