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(Redirected from Boustrophedon text)

Boustrophedon is an ancient way of writing manuscripts and other inscriptions in which, rather than going from left to right as in modern English, or right to left as in Arabic, alternate lines must be read in opposite directions. The name is borrowed from the Greek language. Its etymology is from βους, "ox" + στρεφειν, "to turn" (cf. the etymology of strophe), because the hand of the writer goes back and forth, so that the resulting inscription resembles the path of an ox that draws a plow across a field and turns at the end of each row to return in the opposite direction.

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Many ancient languages of the Mediterranean were frequently or typically written boustrophedon, but in Greek it is found most commonly on pre-historic and archaic inscriptions, becoming less and less popular throughout the Hellenic period.

The stone head statues of Easter Island also bear boustrophedonic script. The ancient language (Rongorongo) in which it is written has never been deciphered. In Rongorongo, the text in alternate lines was rotated 180 degrees, not mirrored.

The most common modern usage of mirror type of boustrophedon writing can be found on the front of ambulances, where the word "AMBULANCE" is often written in very large mirrored text, so that drivers see the word the right way around in their rear-view mirror.

By analogy, the term may be used in other areas to describe this kind of alternation of motion or writing.

For example, it is occasionally used to describe the print head motion of certain dot matrix computer printers. In that case, while the print head moves in opposite directions on alternate lines, the printed text is not in boustrophedon format. See also the corresponding entry [1] ( in the Jargon File of hacker slang.

Perhaps the most important example of boustrophedonics is the numbering scheme of sections within survey townships in the United States and Canada. In both countries, survey townships are divided into a 6-by-6 grid of 36 sections. In the US Public Land Survey System, Section 1 of a township is in the northeast corner, and the numbering proceeds boustrophedonically until Section 36 is reached in the southeast corner. Canada's Dominion Land Survey also uses boustophedronic numbering, but starts at the southeast corner.

Another example is boustrophedon transform, known in mathematics.

External links

de:Bustrophedon es:Bustrofedon fr:Boustrophdon nl:Boustrophedon pl:Bustrofedon pt:Bustrofdonru:Бустрофедон


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