Archive for the ‘Writing systems’ Category

No vowels

April 11, 2015

In the April 13th New Yorker, a Talk of the Town piece “The Musical Life: New Translation” by Alec Wilkinson about Cassandra Wilson:

The title of the Egyptian funerary papyrus “Book of the Dead” is more accurately translated as “Coming Forth by Day.” It was called “Book of the Dead” by Wallis Budge, who translated the manuscript for the British Museum, in 1895. “Coming Forth by Day” is also the title of Cassandra Wilson’s new record, which is an homage to Billie Holiday, who would have turned one hundred on April 7th.

The other morning, Wilson visited the Egyptian wing of the Met, waiting in the security line among schoolchildren on field trips.

… “I’ve been fascinated by Egyptology for ten years,” she said. “Ancient Egypt was called Kmt. Their language didn’t have vowels, much like Hebrew. The Greeks called the people from Kmt the Aegyptos. ‘Kemetic’ is how you refer to the culture. The Kemetics didn’t believe in death. They believed that you were always coming back and forth from the unknown to the actual. Going to the afterlife they referred to as ‘westing,’ since the sun set in the west. For me, the thought of Billie Holiday’s spirit being reinvented in the twenty-first century connected with the concept of returning, of coming forth by day.”

Whoa! The writing system is not the language. The Ancient Egyptian writing system didn’t have symbols for vowels, but the language certainly had them. Every language does.


Set of three

December 27, 2014

A crop of three comics for today, on three very different topics: a One Big Happy with an inventive reinterpretation of an expression; a Zits on the evolution of writing systems; and a Zippy with another Xmas parody:




One by one:


Two linguistics cartoons

September 28, 2014

… in the latest (9/29/14) New Yorker: a Zach Kanin on writing systems and a Joe Dator with a snow cone snowclone:




Early writing in the comics

January 9, 2014

Today’s Bizarro:


I before E except after C.

Hangul Day

October 9, 2013

Today is Hangul Day, a holiday to celebrate the Korean writing system. Here’s a video from some years ago with the great linguist Jim McCawley explaining why this is an important day in the calendar:

[Enjoy the Scottish accent. By the way, it’s the University of Chicago, not Chicago University.]

This is holiday season. From this blog on October 14th in 2011:

We’ve just had the holiday triple play — Hangul Day [October 9th], Columbus Day (U.S.) / Thanksgiving (Canada) [both the second Monday in October], National Coming Out Day [October 11th] … — and next up is Dictionary Day, October 16th, celebrated on Noah Webster’s birthday. Words running amok in the streets!

Two Big Happies

December 6, 2012

A few weeks ago, from Benita Bendon Campbell, two cartoons from the strip One Big Happy (information on the strip here), with little kids coping with English. Ruthie plays with alphabetical ordering:

And Joe commits an eggcorn on unnamed source, using a topic he knows something about, namely dinosaurs:

Ed Fisher cartoons

July 9, 2012

Passed on from the Archaeosoup site (via Facebook), this New Yorker cartoon (1/26/63) by Ed Fisher:

This tickles archaeologists’ funny bones. And epigraphers’, of course.


Wooden Hebrew magnets

May 30, 2012

My friend Max Vasilatos has been creating wooden fridge magnets for various alphabets. She’s a woodworker, and the project is an exercise in art and craft. Yes, you can get plastic fridge magnets for a number of alphabets, but that’s not the point.

From last month, the Hebrew alefbet as carved by Max:

The medium determined many of her choices, so her letters are more stylized than, say, the plastic Megcos Magnetic Hebrew Letters.

Note: The Hebrew alefbet has 22 letters, but five of them are written differently when they appear at the end of a word (rather than at the beginning or in the middle), so that there are 27 different forms. Here’s the full alefbet as printed by hand:

Thorny days

May 15, 2012

The Old English letter þ (known as thorn) played a central role in my posting on a “frugal typographer” who proposed in 1929 to save space by replacing the word the by þ. Now thorn is the subject of a New Yorker blog piece by editor Mary Norris: “The Thorn Word” (note play on The Thorn Birds).


The frugal typographer

May 10, 2012

Annals of silliness: from the Medford [Oregon] Daily News, June 23, 1929, a story about one man’s quest to save space by replacing the word the by a single symbol:

Note the wry conclusion to the jocular piece:

Its general use should prove a great boon to newspapers, facilitating composition and reserving space now given over to “the’s” for more comic strips and letters to the editor.

Maybe Mason was just an eccentric whose ideas never caught on. Or maybe Mason was the invention of a mischievous journalist; notice that we hear nothing about Mason except for his campaign to replace the.

(Hat tip to Ben Truwe, who operated the Medford typography firm ProType for 22 years. The image of the newspaper page is the one he sent me; I understand that it’s not easy to read, even when you click on it to embiggen it.)

(I’m not experienced in dealing with newspaper archives and haven’t been able to find this story, datelined New York, in any other publication.)