Odd Words: Boustrophedon

BoustrophedonI 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:

Bou·stro·phe·don  noun  \bü-strə-‘fē-dän\

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

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Odd Words: Boustrophedon

  1. I knew this word, but only in its adjectival form: boustrophedonic. I don’t remember where I picked it up – maybe cramming for a spelling bee as a child, or during my teenage period of intense fascination with ancient scripts. Can’t say I’ve ever found an opportunity to drop it into casual conversation, more’s the pity. What a cocktail-party moment that would be.

    • When I was working on this word I had an inkling that others might know it. It’s such a great word that I would think people with a literary bent would share it with each other. The idea itself makes me feel so wronged! It seems obvious that English should be organized this way and we should all have learned it. I still find I mess up when moving from one line to the next. Anyway, I think this is my favorite of all the words I’ve done thus far.

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