Rational Orthography

What do DVORAK, polyamory, and home schooling have in common? They’re all about doing what’s weird-but-effective instead of what’s popular. What else is like that?

About three thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks invented a form of writing called boustrophedon. The first line was written left-to-right, the second right-to-left, and so on in a winding pattern. The advantage of the new system was that it was faster and easier to read – instead of constantly darting your eyes back and forth from one side of the page to the other at the end of each line, you just let them continue naturally.

The disadvantage was that it was hard to write, for much the same reasons most people would have trouble writing backwards now. So although boustrophedon and straight left-to-right Greek competed for a couple of centuries, in the end straight Greek won because the scribes were too lazy to do what was most convenient for their readers. According to Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures:

A risk when offering any historical description is what has been called ‘the Whig interpretation of history’, the easy presumption that everything leads straightforwardly and inexorably to the highest state of humankind. Such an interpretation fails to look at the entire historical picture, ignoring the losers – in our case, the writing systems that became extinct […]

Boustrophedon, the writing of the ox, is, as it were, on the horns of a dilemma; either it is easier to read and more difficult to write, or vice versa. It is not surprising that it rapidly died out in ancient writing. Perhaps more surprising are moves to reintroduce it. Computers can be programmed so that only the standard twenty-six letters have to be typed on the keyboard, but the screen display or printout has normal or mirror-reversed letters according to the direction of the script. Enthusiasts claim boustrophedon is easier and quicker to read because the eye does not have to find its way back to the beginning of the next line.

These sorts of things have to start somewhere. So I asked SSC reader Bakkot to create a script that causes this blog to display in boustrophedon. I think you’ll agree that the experience is much improved. If there’s enough demand for a “classic” view, I can ask him to create some kind of optional browser add-on that will disable it, but I’d urge you to try the new version for a couple of weeks before turning to that “solution”.

More important: what if you want everything you read to be in boustrophedon from now on? For that I can unreservedly recommend The Boustrophedon Text Reader. Right now it only works on .txt, but hopefully as the movement catches on someone can turn it into a full browser extension.

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203 Responses to Rational Orthography

  1. Baby Beluga says:

    I can’t tell if this is an April Fool’s joke.

    • Not Really Anyone says:

      The backwards text seems to be on every article, doubt it’s SSC and probably something with the blog provider.

      April fools joke, you can’t read anymore.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s pretty obviously an april fools joke by scott.

        This post is about the writing style his whole blog has been transformed into.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      If it claims that polyamory is “effective” it must be.

      • Carinthium says:

        Out of curiousity, what are your objections to polyamory? At the absolute minimum, I think it clearly works at least for a minority of humans who have the psyche for it.

        How many humans it is good for is more contestable, but the existence of that minority really isn’t.

        • Anonymous says:

          >At the absolute minimum, I think it clearly works at least for a minority of humans who have the psyche for it.

          It works for people who have the pysche for which it works?

          • Carinthium says:

            That’s not a tautology, because it implies that such a minority actually exists. I can’t ascertain it’s size (nor for that matter that it’s a minority), but I know that much.

        • Shenpen says:

          Because if the Red-Pillers are at least 20% right -and I think they are mostly wrong but there is some 20%-30% right there – it will often work like suckering a “beta” into providing money and emotional support to a woman for scant to none sex while she is screwing an “alpha”.

          If this is done 100% honestly it is okay, but I think it will very often be coupled with dishonesty and disrespect for the “beta”.

          So a woman telling a man she is poly can be something like a gigantic “shit test” and disrespect basically demanding that he accepts that she screws around and yet he should be behaving like a normal boyfriend, investing into the relationship. (He is allowed to screw around too, but he cannot, he is “beta”, even scoring one girl is hard enough for him!)

          Exclusivity on the womans part is the basic respect paid to the man, the basic asset she brings to the trade, as the man is supposed to do far more in the relationship, so this how they break equal.

          Putting it differently, if it is true that men are naturally poly and women are naturally hyper, it cannot really benefit “beta” men, it is a alpha-men-and-women “conspiracy”.

          Potentially it would work better if the man is not actually supposed do much in the relationship, not a provider, not an emotional support. But in that case he had to be an attractive “alpha” because why would a woman recruit a man who gives neither the “butterflies in the stomach” nor providing resources and emotional support?

          • Nita says:

            Exclusivity on the womans part is the basic respect paid to the man, the basic asset she brings to the trade, as the man is supposed to do far more in the relationship, so this how they break equal.

            Uh, so a balanced relationship according to this model is one where the man earns money and screws around, while the woman spends the money and has sex only with him?

            That doesn’t sound very monogamous to me…

            why would a woman recruit a man who gives neither the “butterflies in the stomach” nor providing resources and emotional support?

            Indeed. Actually, why would I “recruit” either an “alpha” or a “beta” if I can have a normal man who is both supportive and attractive (in the ways that I like)?

          • Nita says:

            Or even better — two neither-alpha-nor-beta men, and a woman who’s also a lovely person 🙂

            But really, my biggest beef with the manosphere is their refusal to learn more than two letters of the Greek alphabet. Fellas, beta comes right after alpha! It’s a universally respected high-status citizen of letterland. Maybe try “theta”, “sigma” or “upsilon” for your labeling-and-sneering needs?

            And don’t even get me started on the idea of basing the model of sexual competition on wolf pack structure. A typical wolf pack is a family. The young adult kids respect their elders and help raise the little ones.

          • stillnotking says:

            Hey, they also use “omega” to refer to men who are so repulsive they can’t get women to look at them at all! I demand you stop slandering redpillers, who clearly know three letters of the Greek alphabet.

          • Anonymous says:

            But the real question is, does the make you a lambda or an upsilon??

          • Anonymous says:

            it will often work like suckering a “beta” into providing money and emotional support to a woman for scant to none sex while she is screwing an “alpha”.

            Must resist urge to compare this description to a certain blogger’s personal life.

          • Anthony says:

            it will often work like suckering a “beta” into providing money and emotional support to a woman for scant to none sex while she is screwing an “alpha”.

            If this is done 100% honestly it is okay, but I think it will very often be coupled with dishonesty and disrespect for the “beta”.

            So a woman telling a man she is poly can be something like a gigantic “shit test” and disrespect basically demanding that he accepts that she screws around and yet he should be behaving like a normal boyfriend, investing into the relationship. (He is allowed to screw around too, but he cannot, he is “beta”, even scoring one girl is hard enough for him!)

            You’ve described a common-enough failure mode of polyamory – this does happen, but not usually with the disrespect you implied.

            Though there’s a common twist – it’s often the *man* who proposed a poly relationship to a hesitant woman; once the woman accepts, she finds it much easier to find additional partners than the man, and the man ends up unhappy about the arrangement *he* proposed.

          • RCF says:

            ” Actually, why would I “recruit” either an “alpha” or a “beta” if I can have a normal man who is both supportive and attractive (in the ways that I like)?”

            Presumably, Shenpen would consider him to be an alpha, and not a normal man.

          • Carinthium says:

            I think it would be far better to have explicit Relationship Agreements so these things can be a lot less ambigious (even if some would still exist). Specifying things like emotional support provided, degrees of exclusivity, etc. The matter of what the “default” is thus becomes irrelevant.

            Sadly, that is culturally impossible for most people as things stand.

            Assuming proper communication is off the table, I think Shenpen has a good point for a lot of cases. But people who consider polyamory tend to be upper class and thus intelligent, so I think a lo

            Further, the existence of a polyamorous community plus ‘Polyamory is Boring’ leads me to believe that there are people for whom there is relatively little jealousy (thus making this less of an issue), making this a non-issue.

            EDIT: On the manosphere issue- it’s just terminology. It could be more sophisticated yes, but I don’t think it worth making a fuss over.

          • Deiseach says:

            Content warning: crude language used in the following.

            Can someone please explain it very simply to me, because I am doubtless very stupid, but I just do not understand the way this seems to be working re: “alphas” and “betas”?

            Apart from the wolf-pack terminology which makes me roll my eyes for various reasons (a) we’re not wolves (b) that study was flawed (c) real wolves don’t behave in real packs like that, what I am taking away from this is an “alpha” means, basically, a man who can fuck as many women as he likes (and what about gay/bi alphas? No such a creature?) and the women are throwing themselves at him, while a “beta” is a loser because ha ha, the dumb bastard actually allows himself to feel emotional connection to the sluts! Also, the sluts (that’s apparently their view of women: we’re all whores who are gagging for it but simultaneously will only drop our knickers for the ‘treat ’em mean and keep ’em keen’ types, while leeching off the suckers who fall in love with us) feel nothing but contempt and disrespect for the betas that they use as resource-fodder while attempting to find an alpha who will fuck them?

            I don’t get this, I really don’t. If your opinion of women is this low, why the hell would you want to get your dick within castrating-distance of the bitches? Because if you’re a beta, they’ll suck you dry whilst probably cuckolding you with an alpha and getting you to spend your money supporting the cuckoo in the nest baby resulting, and if you’re an alpha all you care about is fucking them and then getting rid of them (you certainly don’t care about them, and emotional closeness and support are nowhere in the picture).

            Guys, in my job, I see men who get to fuck all the women they want and believe you me, they are not what I’d call “alpha” in any way. If you really want to be drowning in pussy, you just need to lower your standards a bit (the types of women who like hanging around absolute bastards have their own problems, but if you don’t care about her other than getting into her knickers, you won’t be bothered about her problems because you sure as fuck won’t be helping her out in any fashion, financially or emotionally or otherwise). But if what you want is a stunningly attractive woman who evokes envy in other men while remaining totally faithful to you, no expectations of emotional support or help on her side while she will be there 24/7 to cater to your needs, and you can have as many ‘bits on the side’ as you want – the Cool Girl – then I don’t know what to say to you, other than keep dreaming because that’s only a fantasy.

          • Elissa says:

            @Deiseach The explanation I’ve heard and that makes sense to me is that all this “women are bitches/sluts/amoral sex-dispensing automata” stuff is a corrective for men who have pedestalized women and are too terrified of rejection to actually approach them. It certainly isn’t workable as a mature worldview, and if you look around on PUA forums you’ll pretty regularly see guys who are like, “Now that I know women are bitches/sluts/amoral sex-dispensing automata and real emotional connection is neither possible nor desirable, I feel so lonely and alienated,” to which the stereotyped reaction is, “Suck it up, buttercup, this is what being a real man is like. You can only be friends with manly masculine men who understand you.” And also possibly (since feminism is to blame for everything) “You should find a virginal wife from a traditional culture where the women aren’t all ruined.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Elissa, what confuses me is the bits I’ve read where it’s more or less:

            Aggrieved complaint: That other guy is terrible! He’s a dreadful choice! He’s just using her, why is she choosing to be with him?

            Me reading along: I have no idea. Like the example I heard my workmates discussing, about this guy who has a string of girlfriends but is not particularly attractive – apparently he’s very charming though, if you interact personally with him. Well, he’d want to be, wouldn’t he?

            Him: I’m much nicer! I’d treat her way better!

            Me still reading along: That may be true. What can you do, though? Human relationships, eh?

            Him: So she should sleep with me and not with him!

            Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa, there sunshine. There’s no should about any of this: people like who they like, and you can’t claim to deserve that Girl A should choose you over that creep Just Because.

            Honestly, it reminds me of nothing so much as the 17th century poets writing scathing poems about “Why Is She Sleeping With Him And Not Me?”

            I get the same mixed messages: women should sleep with every guy who asks them, except if they do that they’re sluts but if they don’t do that they’re uppity bitches who think they deserve alphas; I want her to sleep with me first time of asking on a casual sex basis, but I want her to like me for myself as well, but I don’t want any emotional entanglement, but I want this to be about more than sex, but I want to be able to dump her when it’s convenient, and if she sleeps with anyone before or after me she’s a slut.

            Honestly – really, really glad to be aromantic and asexual if this is what’s out there.

      • haishan says:

        That’s a subtly fantastic joke: I’m pretty sure almost every reader of this blog thinks that at least one of {Dvorak, polyamory, homeschooling} is the bee’s knees, and almost every reader also thinks that at least one of {Dvorak, polyamory, homeschooling} is a terrible thing with obnoxious and annoying fans.

        • Alex says:

          FWIW, I’m in the same boat on all three – good for some people, impractical for most. Dvorak has too much switching cost, polyamory requires a lot more effort keeping relationships intact and is a lot less stable, and homeschooling requires a stay-at-home parent who can still teach well.

          • Lambert says:

            I never tire of the xkcd strip with the programmer saying theyr’e almost up to their old typing speed in dvorak.

          • ryan says:

            My sister is looking into what she called homeschooling cooperatives. 4-5 moms from the same neighborhood share teaching responsibilities, rotate whose house “school” is held at. Removes the burden of one mom having to do/know it all.

          • Viliam Búr says:

            The “homeschooling cooperatives” you described seem like what would happen as a natural outcome of polyamory and homeschooling: homeschooling with multiple moms at home.

            Now someone should create a homeschooling cooperative that teaches Dvorak, and that would be the ultimate human experience.

            (If that fails to produce the ultimate experience, we also have to add Linux, veganism, Lojban, and possibly some other important ingredients.)

          • Anonymous says:

            @ryan: Sounds interesting! Rest assured, even if it doesn’t work out pretty much anything is better than public schooling.

          • Nathan Cook says:

            I never learned to type properly (with proper finger position and use of home keys) in QWERTY, so when I finally decided to get serious about typing it was fairly easy to decide just to learn in Dvorak and use my old style as a fall back. I can see how it would be unpleasant for someone with actual typing proficiency in QUERTY to switch, though.

          • Lorxus says:

            Hi, I’m SO in favor of adding Lojban to the hypothetical curriculum.

        • I don’t think any of the three is a terrible thing, although I think the claims for Dvorak are mostly bogus. It doesn’t seem any worse than Qwerty, might be marginally better.

          Polyamory probably works well for some, poorly for others. I’m a fan of unschooling, usually done as a form of home schooling. I have nothing against home schooling more generally, but how much sense it makes probably depends on the particular situation.

        • Shenpen says:

          Nope. I am a natural pessimist, I am fairly sure almost everything sucks. However some things are intellectually curious and I read SSC to hear about them.

    • Faul_Sname says:

      I don’t think it’s an april fool’s joke. After all, it’s clearly
      daer ot si ti naht txet nodehportsuoB eht daer ot reisae
      the standard, line-by-line text we used to use here.

      • Godzillarissa says:

        It’s actually easier to read if the letters aren’t mirrored (like in your example), than if they were (like in Scott’s post).
        Maybe that could make the writing easier, too, since “the scribe” wouldn’t have to mirror the letters.

        • Which is to say, it’s easier to read if it actually is Boustrophedon, since reversing letters isnt Boustrophedon.

        • Breakfast is nice says:

          agree. This is great joke!

        • naath says:

          Depends. mirror writing is IMO most easily accomplished by switching hand; and indeed writing right-to-left is easiest left handed anyway (left handers will know how smeared left-to-right writing can get)… so presumably to properly write boustrophedon one switches hand at each line end, thus ensuring equal exercise for both ;-p

          (I’m ambi, but my appalling handwriting is worse with my left hand for lack of practice)

        • Paul Torek says:

          Disagree. I find mirrored much easier to read. Maybe it’s from inadvertently reading the solutions to puzzles in the newspaper. I’m old. They used to do that. They used to have newspapers.

          With more practice, I bet I could get much more fluent at it. You could, too.

          I’m viewing this on my phone. The mirrored writing is a giant fail. Sad. I’ll have to see it on a computer for the full effect.

    • Corwin says:

      No, boustrophedon is (was) an actual thing.

  2. Anon says:

    People who habitually leave Javascript disabled (as I do): enabling it for this day’s event is probably recommended, if you’re interested in trying reading differently. Honestly, if everything from the ground up were designed for it (everything from highlighting text to early childhood texts to modern signage), it might not be a bad idea, but having partial adoption is probably a worst of both worlds sort of thing.

    Bakkot.github.io is what you should block to restore normal functionality, for those interested in that.

    I like this particular expression of April Fools.

    • Bakkot says:

      Blocking bakkot.github.io will also disable the new comment highlight and “hide” button on comments, be forewarned. (Which, Anon, you might want to try those features, while you have JS enabled? They’re pretty useful, I think.)

    • dhill says:

      It certainly didn’t work for feeds.

    • Randy M says:

      “People who habitually leave Javascript disabled (as I do): enabling it for this day’s event is probably recommended, if you’re interested in trying reading differently”

      I’m going to possibly break the fiction here, in saying that I don’t see anything different, and I thought that that was in fact the joke, convincing us that we can see this new style of writing so easily by writing it normally, and then everyone in the comments is saying “Oh, I see it different” to be part of the joke.
      Not having java script enabled makes sense too, and since I’m not at my home computer at the moment, I’m honestly not sure which it is.

    • darxan says:

      You don’t have to fiddle with Javascript to read normally. If you reload the page but stop it before it’s fully loaded the lines stay uninverted.

    • RCF says:

      Cutting and pasting also works; whatever Bakkot did doesn’t survive the process.

  3. pku says:

    Really hoping This is an April fool’s day prank. If it is, it’s a really good one. If not, I think the analog to DVORAK is good in that it’s (controversially) more effective if you switch to it full-time but just confusing and headachy if done occasionally. (Also, now I’m wondering if there’s a correlation between homeschooling, polyamory, and DVORAK, beyond the fact that the latter two seem vaguely connected to SF techie culture).

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I just read an article detailing how Gmail was released on April 1st. tl;dr tech savvies called it an obvious hoax because Gmail offered an entire Gigabyte and launched with a cheesy press release. I thought it was clever.

    • AFC says:

      Homeschooling + dvorak here.

    • I type in dvorak, my wife and I are poly, and we plan to home-school.

    • Harald K says:

      It certainly is, and that leaves me some hope, because maybe it means that Scott realizes the objective advantages of Dvorak, homeschooling and polyamory aren’t necessarily entirely objective either.

      • naath says:

        Mmm, I use dvorak (it made my RSI go away, probably because it involved *actually learning to type* rather than going with a random set of finger bindings that might have been very bad); the big disadvantage is that switching is a real pain and most people don’t use dvorak or even have the layout installed, so I can’t use other people’s computers easily.

        a really subjective *advantage* though is that other people can’t just grab my keyboard and type stuff at my computer ;-p (the keyboard, being the cheap thing that came with the computer is not dvorak labelled at all)

    • Alexp says:

      I personally don’t see the point of switching. Typing speed has never been a bottleneck in my productivity. Not to mention there are plenty of times when I’ll required to use someone else’s computer.

      • Cadie says:

        I’m caught in a “locally optimal” situation with Qwerty vs. Dvorak. I’m good at typing on a Qwerty keyboard, about 100 wpm with high accuracy, and Dvorak would initially slow me down dramatically. I know I’d be faster after enough practice, but it would be so slow and frustrating while learning that it feels like too much of a pain. And my Qwerty speed is more than adequate for what I need typing for. If I was a poor typist on Qwerty or needed very high speeds for work I would consider it, but as it stands, the benefit isn’t enough to make me think the costs of learning and using the less common layout would be worth it.

        • Alex says:

          My reason for switching to Dvorak was comfort (was starting to get pre-RSI aches even with good typing technique). After the switch that went away.

          AlexP, if speed is not a bottleneck you should give it a try. I spent about 3 hours per day for a couple of weeks of vacation to do the switch.

        • I don’t think there is much evidence that switching to Dvorak improves typing speed. The classic article is “The Fable of the Keys,” which demonstrates that pretty nearly all of the standard account of Dvorak vs Qwerty is bogus.


          Many years ago I asked Paul David, chief source of the Dvorak story, about a rebuttal. My memory is that he said he intended one, but so far as I know it never appeared.

        • James Picone says:

          Some guy on the internet came up with a model of ‘typing effort’ that he then attempted to optimise to generate good keyboard layouts: here. Could be interesting reading if you’re into things like dvorak.

  4. Jokes with Intent says:

    If you do back out after one day, you’ll both reinforce peoples’ immediate recoil from the unfamiliar and be a total wimp.

  5. Alicorn says:

    Mercifully, the RSS feed does not preserve this prank.

  6. lambstealer says:

    As much as I hate to post seriously on a good April Fools joke, there’s an actual extension for chrome that does something similar to this but much, much, much better. It’s called Readline and it lets you display text in rapid succession in the center of your vision. Your eyes never have to saccade at all to read this way so you can read a shitload faster than you would be able to normally.

    A phone app called spritz does basically the same thing, and has a pretty good demo online of how it works if you want to try out either one: http://www.spritzinc.com/

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      I use beeline, an extension that takes text and fades it over each line from color A to color B, and then back on the next line (or with colors A, B, and C, if you want), which makes it easier to find the next line.

      • Harald K says:

        How about combining them? Rapidly switching words in the center of your vision, but overlapping and transparent in two different colors. Sounds like it would be a workable lifehack, at least good enough for an April Fool’s prank!

    • aguycalledjohn says:

      Spreed does the same thing as spritz in a chrome extension, use it occasionally https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/spreed-speed-read-the-web/ipikiaejjblmdopojhpejjmbedhlibno

      The experience is similar to listenning to podcasts at high speed, i find i dont critically think about what im seeing as much, but its a good way to download information into my brian. But its difficult for discursive reading because for so many things you skip over sections

  7. 75th says:

    Bookmarklet for party-poopers to undo the damage: Boustrophedon’t

  8. somnicule says:

    I found it surprisingly easy to read after the first few lines. I think the greatest trouble comes from characters that are mirror-images of others (b and d, p and q) but other than that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more effective in the long-run. Fonts that distinguish better between those characters (perhaps italicization could be useful here?) should help meliorate that problem anyway.

    Is there a way to send feature requests to Amazon? I’d love to have this on my kindle, too. Making it standard could have huge beneficial impacts on literacy. I have a cousin in children’s book publishing, I think I’ll send this along to her too.

    • Most of the reversed text I could read well enough, but as I had never encountered the word “boustrophedon” before AND it contains a confusing letter “p” (I was unsure for a while if it was supposed to be p or q), deciphering this word was the main stumbling block for me. Somehow I don’t see it catching on, in spite of its many obvious rational advantages. (*mild sarcasm*)

      • RCF says:

        My brain’s response was “clearly this is a proper noun, and knowing its exact spelling isn’t going to add anything, so don’t worry about it.”

    • Andy says:

      This was my experience, but I’ve never had trouble reading right-to-left.
      This is almost as fun as the Tumblr copier assistant.

  9. I don’t find it hard to read backwards text (but that may be b/c I practiced writing mirror text in dull classes). What I did find interesting is that when I read the “backwards” text, my eye automatically jumped to start the following line on the right, even though it was L-t-R.

    • Fnord says:

      That happened to me, too.

    • ivvenalis says:

      Yep. Same thing. Letters that are mirror-images of each other also caused some confusion. I can read/write Arabic, albeit with a great deal of effort and a dictionary handy, and this was definitely harder than my English-trained mind reading something consistently right-to-left.

      I’d also argue (yes, I know this is an April Fool’s joke) that the same dilemma between writing and reading comprehension applies to punctuation.

  10. Jon Miller says:

    I am curious, Scott, about your interest in polyamory. In what sense is it “effective,” and evidence is there in support of its being effective in this way?

    • I hope that line was self-parody of rationalist elitism.

      • Godzillarissa says:

        And if it wasn’t you added nothing at all to this conversation.

        I for one would like to hear the answer to Jon Miller’s question, whether he was serious or not.

        • RCF says:

          I think that the most reasonable interpretation of the phrase “that line” in Topher’s post was that it referred to Scott’s statement that polyamory is effective, rather than Jon Miller’s questioning of that statement.

      • Alex says:

        He does it himself – https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/27/cuddle-culture/ – so I doubt it’s intended too parodically. This whole post has a ha-ha-only-serious feel to it.

      • I think that all three items mentioned as “optimal” are included for parodic effect, as that’s just the sort of smug, self-satisfied thing that proponents of polyamory/Dvorak/homeschooling would say.

        (I use Dvorak.)

    • hawkice says:

      Worth asking, “Effective at what?”

      This both rules out almost any possible answer and suggests one: That it’s effective at making people happy. I suspect this is largely untrue, not due to inherent properties of polyamory, but because most of the American population attempting this are trying to use it to paper over problems in committed relationships.

      Effective for some, perhaps (and maybe, on balance, effective for subpopulations like LWers, although I have no information casual observers don’t), and I would imagine largely pleasant.

      I doubt a more serious answer could be imagined, if you actually wanted one.

    • Randy M says:

      I would assume he means something like, “If you embrace polyamory with other people who do, then you can endulge in polyamorous urges without triggering your partners jealously, which leads to easier domestic life than if you were either constantly frustrated, or hiding affairs, or arguing abou them.”
      Or else something like “having a variable number of people in a household who are intimate leads to efficient distribution of household tasks rather than sticking to an arbitrary predetermined number.”

      If he means “Polyamory is a more efficient way of family formation and raising children” or “forming long-term bonds” or “equitably distributing mates across the population as a whole” … well let’s say there’s a large inferential gap between us that won’t be papered over with a couple social science studies.

      • Anthony says:

        ˙ooʇ ‘ǝsןǝ ǝuoʎɹǝʌǝ ɹoɟ ʞɹoʍ ןןıʍ ɯǝɥʇ ɹoɟ poob s,ʇɐɥʍ ʇɐɥʇ ǝɯnssɐ oʇ puɐ ‘sǝɔuǝɹǝɟǝɹd ɹıǝɥʇ ɟo sʇıɟǝuǝq ǝɥʇ ןןǝsɹǝʌo oʇ puǝʇ op ʎǝɥʇ ‘sɹǝʇʇıɟ-ssoɹɔ puɐ ‘sʇsıǝɥʇɐ ‘suɐbǝʌ sɐ snoıxouqo sɐ ǝʇınb ʇ,uǝɹɐ sɹǝןooɥɔsǝɯoɥ puɐ ‘sɹǝsn ʞɐɹoʌp ‘sʇsıɹoɯɐʎןod ǝןıɥʍ ʇɐɥʇ sı ʇı ɟo ʇɹɐd ʇsɐǝן ʇɐ ʇɐɥʇ ʞuıɥʇ ı

    • Jon Miller says:

      In fact, my question was not intended as a joke. While Scott’s mention of polyamory here is in the context of his April Foolery, he has brought it up before in a seemingly sympathetic way, and surely his interest in polyamory is a topic that deserves the full-on Slate Star Codex treatment.

  11. Sam says:

    You know, this isn’t as illegible as it seems as first glance—but then I am left-handed, and did struggle for a while with mirror writing while I was learning. If the letter-forms weren’t necessarily distorted by needing to fill in approximate glyphs, boustrophedon might actually work. Whether readers are better off with an ‘economy of scale’ in optimising brains for mono-directional reading or reducing eye back-and-forth time is not an obviously settled question.

    (Yes, I know this is an April Fools’. I take jokes very seriously.)

  12. Terdragon says:

    …uʍop-ǝpısdn pɐǝɹ oʇ ʎʇıןıqɐ ʎɯ uǝsɹoʍ oʇ ʞɹoʍ ןןıʍ ʇı ɹɐǝɟ ı ʇnq ‘ןooɔ sı sıɥʇ

    • ilzolende says:

      This is actually a much easier way to read from right to left in English than mirrored text!

      • Irrelevant says:

        Yes, yes it is.

      • Creutzer says:

        Indeed, and it makes a lot of sense that this should be so. Here the word shapes are just rotated by 180 degrees, whereas they are horizontally mirrored in the main text, and mental rotation is easier than mental mirroring.

    • Harald K says:

      Why not

    • Deiseach says:

      I trained myself to read upside-down and to read backwards a good while back, but I’m horrendously out of practice and I don’t think that ox-plough writing is necessarily easier/quicker to read.

      That being said, I believed all this right up to the part where Scott went “you are reading this backwards” and then I remembered “Fool, fool, the first of April” 🙂

      • RCF says:

        Due to my work as a tutor, I’ve developed what I believe is an above-average ability to write upside down; it’s useful to be able to sit on the other side of the table from the student and still be able to write on their paper. One time I watched some guys painting letters on their chests in a bathroom, and looking at themselves in the mirror to do it. Did not turn out well.

        Also, for some reason I got a 502 error the first time I tried to post this.

  13. Raiden Worley says:

    There should be an option to revert it to normal. After April Fools, even if this is all reverted to normal, it would be awesome to have some kind of option somewhere to make the whole site like this for each individual (at least just until someone makes a good extension for it).

    On a more serious note, does anyone think that text formatted like this is actually “better” in any way?

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      If we didn’t have letters that mirrored each other, I think it could work.

      • Nita says:

        In general, glyph shapes and modes of writing are co-adapted. A typical “proportional” latin font looks bad when written top-to-bottom, while square-ish hieroglyphs look fine. Cursive scripts work well with ink, while runes are easier to carve in stone. Diacritical marks are trivial to add on paper, but a bit of a nuisance on a keyboard.

        So, if someone developed a reversal-friendly font, it might work a lot better.

        • primality says:

          Actually, those already exist! Dyslexia makes it difficult to distinguish mirrored characters like b and d, and rotated charaters like b and q, so if you google for dyslexia fonts you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

          Now I wonder if dyslexic people would find the difficulty jump lower (as in, I read this article much slower than usual, but maybe they’d be going close to their normal speed)

  14. Jordan D. says:

    Dr. Alexander, I’ve often been effusive in my praise of you as a learned man and a mold-breaker, but this latest technique is astounding! It is, of course, well-known that abuse the optic organs is a primary cause of the degradation of society; the eyes being the window to the soul, each movement naturally introduces a modicum of entropy to the human anima. And a disorderly soul is naturally not conducive to the finer arts which crown civilization.

    With this revolutionary script, readers may happily peruse their letters, notes or even the works of great authors in an environment as much as 50% less destructive to their ultimate being. I can only imagine that you will be awarded high honors and grand titles when the great powers of humanity realize how complete your contribution is!

    I say again: bravo!

  15. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    Given that traditional orthography is entrenched in computers, I imagine people would find the transition impossibly prohibitive. E.g. I continually highlight random paragraphs out of habit when reading webpages. Highlighting Scott’s paragraphs threw me off because my text-cursor highlighted alternating lines in a given paragraph. I’m a little disappointed that Boustrophedon hadn’t caught on during an earlier time-period, because it sounds interesting.

    On the other hand, I remember my younger-self thinking “Natural language is too ambiguous. If only we could define terms more precisely!” And then one day I discovered that xkcd about Lojban. If such a language exists, yet has not taken the world by storm, I must have overlooked some fatal flaw. I realized equivocation wasn’t a bug, but a feature. Where would Shakespeare be if each lexeme were allowed but a single meaning? Since then, I’ve been a little more wary of nerd-traps that are elegant on paper but unwieldy in real life. Boustrophedon looks like one of those traps.

    Incidentally. I was looking at the wikipedia page for Boustrophedon. It also mentions Reverse Boustrophedon which uses rotation instead of reflection. I thought this might have more potential because “rotating a sheet of paper” sounded easier than either “writing with my right (dominant) hand from right-to-left” or “switching to my non-dominant (left) hand every other line”. But then I realized a strategy which relies on rotating the text medium was not as effective when writing on a bulletin board.

    Anyhow, how did those Greeks write like that anyway? Perhaps Boustrophedon isn’t as marginally difficult as traditional orthography when carving stone tablets?


    “I prefer Boustrophedon,” said Tom straightforwardly.

    • Dinaroozie says:

      Perhaps for mirroring text, you could use particularly thin paper and dark ink, and swap to writing on the opposite side of the page every second line? It has the same downsides as your other method involving rotation, though (as well as the other downside where the whole thing isn’t actually very useful or effective, of course).

      Also, I think by conventional usage ‘nerd trap’ has a different meaning, but I like your usage here – this is a concept that needs a term. Another xkcd – https://xkcd.com/977/ – seems to describe this, for people who prefer the Dymaxion projection. I’m not sure what it is about those kinds of things, but I find them appealing on some level, even though I don’t really partake. I guess they embrace some definition of ‘nerd’ that I find a lot more useful and descriptive than just ‘person who really likes Star Trek’.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        Earlier today I was thinking “What if we wrote text vertically like the Ancient Chinese?” (except I’d rather write the first column on the left). Right handed people would find it just as easy, and weaving the text Boustrophedon-style would not require us to rotate or flip the glyphs.

        by conventional usage ‘nerd trap’ has a different meaning, but I like your usage here – this is a concept that needs a term.

        Meh, it was just something I made up on the fly. I actually had Randall’s nerd-sniping comic in mind. But nerd-sniping is deliberate while things like Boustrophedon are more passive. Maybe we can call it a “Dymaxion Trap”. I like the assonance, but not the length. In relation to nerd-sniping, maybe we could tie in land-mines.

        Edit: According to wikipedia, “It [Dymaxion] is a portmanteau of the words dynamic, maximum, and tension.” So I suppose it’s pronounced “dy-Max-uhn” rather than “dy-Max-ee-on”. I like three syllables better.

        Edit: more proposals. “Honeypot” and “nerd-zapper”.

        • Nathan Cook says:

          The Wikipedia article linked for Chinese actually has an example of Chinese boustrophedon. Check out the street sign.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Good catch! I guess this is what happens when I just pull things from memory and wield wikipedia as a bludgeon of confirmation bias.

            I admit that I’ve always thought of written Chinese as the least sane written language. But if the benefits of Boustrophedon are great enough, maybe Chinese is actually the most sane written language. Maybe Firefly got it right after all.

          • hawkice says:

            What’s really interesting (to me, at least) is that Chinese is becoming something of a read-only script for many youngsters — they input pinyin and (in the rare case where the input system can’t get the whole sentence right in one go), they select the characters from a dynamic drop down. Actually producing those characters ex nihilo is… substantially more difficult, and since there are so few occasions that require handwriting, the skill is being lost.

            I think, if you consider Chinese characters to be read-only, they make quite a lot of sense. It also reduces the usage of completely custom root words with meanings trivially expressed by other root words, which is good (example: we use ‘lunch’ as opposed to 中午饭, roughly, mid-day-food. The Chinese is clearer, more adaptable [like I could reasonably guess, if I had not already seen, the verb 中午吃 for mid-day-eat, which is basically the verb form of lunch] and, crucially, much easier to learn than a whole new root word).

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            What do you think of Korean? Korean strikes me as the best compromise between having-an-alphabet [0] and Boustrophedon-friendly. Is this a good idea or is this Dymaxian [1]? IANALinguist, so I have no idea.

            [0] What’s the terminology for having-an-alphabet? The closest I could come up with was “Romanized”.

            [1] Yes, I am going to say this whenever I can until it gets frindled. Humor me.

          • hawkice says:

            I honestly know very little about Korean (although I think they use to / still use a few Chinese characters mixed in with Hangul). I did spend some googles on this trying to nail down my thoughts, and I think I can supply terms that Google much better, if you are curious about how to determine this for Korean:

            Highly analytic languages can have something akin to “liguistic reusability” inversely proportional to how isolating the language is. Chinese is highly analytic and yet has a relatively high morpheme to word ratio, allowing a lot of words for a few base morphemes without the hassles of many other languages (having inflections agree with new constructions, etc.)

            In addition to this, Chinese distinguishes in writing between homophones of different meanings, which is probably a good move if you want the reuse, but imposes a cost to fluency.

        • Dinaroozie says:

          I’ve always said it as ‘dye-max-ee-on’ in my head, although I suppose I haven’t had much call to say it out loud. I quite like ‘Dymaxion Trap’ though – seems to describe the situation pretty well. Further reading reveals that ‘Dymaxion’ is also the name of a particular polyphasic sleep cycle, and I think polyphasic sleep is maybe an even better example of a Dymaxion trap than the other examples under discussion here.

          Not strictly related, but I also enjoy the fact that the word ‘Dymaxion’ was created by a wordsmith specifically hired to come up with a brand for Fuller’s inventions.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I realized equivocation wasn’t a bug, but a feature

      Just before I read this, I thought to myself “but that’s a bug not a feature”. I’ve been here too long.

      I think Boustrophedon could work if each letter was a mirror image of itself. And this writing system could have some real fun with palindrome sentences, or sentences that when reversed, mean something else.

      But yeah it’s a really funny self parody, the theoretical advantages do not (obviously) outweigh the difficulty of implementation.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        “but that’s a bug not a feature”. I’ve been here too long.

        Personally, I haven’t heard this cliche enough for the knee-jerk reaction to outweigh its expressive utility. But when I hear anything about using the right tools for the job, I can’t help but roll my eyes. And then I remind myself “Before you roll your eyes at someone, just remember that all the horses in the world may have not been as physically abused as yours has.”

        And this writing system could have some real fun with palindrome sentences,

        Like a mirror duet! That would take poetry to the next level. Hm… I’ll see if I can come with something by the next open thread.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          But when I hear anything about using the right tools for the job, I can’t help but roll my eyes.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Because it’s a semantic stop sign. It’s common for a thread in HN to go something like

            Alice – “Javascript is perfect because it works in any browser.”

            Bob – “Um, Javascript is callback hell. That dynamic scope… wtf?”

            Chad – “Guys, I think we can all agree that a good carpenter has a large toolbox and uses the right tool for the job.”

            Yes, it’s a truism that a wrench is better at some things and a screwdriver is better at other things. And the phrase does have utility in diffusing jihads like the language wars. But often, the comment (in which the phrase is embedded) doesn’t contribute to the discussion by elaborating on why a particular tool is right for a particular job. Nor does it continue to analyze the pros-&-cons. Nor which situations it might best fit.

            In other words, the phrase is often used like how a mom says “I like your crayon drawings equally. Now quit bickering.” Vague, uncritical, hand-wavy blanket-statements about toolboxes do not engender productive conversations. And after you start seeing it every week…

            p.s. I love slowpoke. The fact that I could teach fire-blast to a water-psychic felt ludicrous. Even if I didn’t groom one for the Elite Four, I sometimes kept one as an HM-slave.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think InferentialDistance’s distaste is because it’s a tired saying, not because it’s a semantic stop sign. Your example could easily be interpreted as “Bob, STFU because right now we have a deadline and we need to be sure this will work for all our clients.”

            But that doesn’t mean Chad isn’t a douchebag (did you choose that name intentionally?) who can’t converse without cliches.

          • RCF says:

            “And the phrase does have utility in diffusing jihads like the language wars.”

            I think you meant “defusing”.

    • Leonard says:

      “When I’m drunk, I can read Boustrophedon better”, said Tom, lurching from side to side.

    • pneumatik says:

      “I mean, Boustrophedon is probably faster to read once you’re used to it, but it would be a lot of work to get good at it; I just don’t know,” Tom meandered.

  16. Will_BC says:

    This reminded me of my favorite April Fool’s joke http://yudkowsky.tumblr.com/post/81447230971/my-april-fools-day-confession

  17. Derek Lorian says:

    Boustrophedon is not normally supposed to use mirror images, just normal letters going both ways. It’s much easier to read that way, though the mirroring is an interesting effect nonetheless, after allowing the scripts. It reminds me of Tengwar, though that wouldn’t work well at all in boustrophedon with mirroring. Greek doesn’t have ambiguously mirrored letters like English does.

    • Bakkot says:

      Wiki: “Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters.” And the sample image definitely has reversed letters.

      • Derek Lorian says:

        So it is; thanks for pointing that out. The examples I learned it from were not, but they were historically later. It would be interesting to have timelines of the variations. The earlier versions might be more diverse, being more directly influenced by hieroglyphics, which can be read in any direction.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you are interested in the Tengwar, you may be interested in Sarati, another writing system developed by Tolkien that can be written conventionally left-to-right, boustrophedron, right-to-left, or top-to-bottom:

      (The Sarati) was originally written from right to left, or boustrophedon beginning at the right. But in books and cursive form it was usually written from top to bottom beginning at the top right-hand corner, though writing from right to left across also occurred.

  18. Shouldn’t this post have been in Esperanto?

    • Harald K says:

      Mi proponas ke la unua de aprilo ĝis nun estus tut-esperantlingva tago, kaj ke ĉiuj alilingvaj postaĵoj malaperiĝos. (phew!)

      I still can read enough Esperanto to get the april’s fool’s joke on Libera Folio, with a lot of awful puns about the Esperanto youth foundation’s condom distribution plans.

  19. Ty Phon says:

    straight right-to-left Greek


  20. Φ says:

    Please, make it stop.

  21. suntzuanime says:

    The first of April is a good day for playing Quidditch without the Snitch.

  22. Block quotes don’t seem to be affected. Nor do comments, for that matter.

  23. Daniel Speyer says:

    Firefox zoom-text-only mode completely mangles this.

    And the linked text reader does some pretty messed up things with fonts and subpixels.

    Ah well.

  24. Dinaroozie says:

    It’s a pity the script doesn’t work on the quoted text. It was painful having to read that the old, ineffective way, having bounded so effortlessly through the superior preceding paragraphs.

  25. Dan Simon says:

    I’m skeptical of the origin story described here. I believe Egyptian and even Hebrew engraved texts predating Greek civilization have been found that follow the same pattern (although typically with just the letter order, not individual letter orientation, reversed on alternate lines). And when you see such texts carved onto large, broad stone surfaces, it becomes pretty obvious that the practice had nothing to do with reader convenience, and everything to do with engraver convenience.

  26. Petey says:

    For printed text: why bother reversing the individual letters?

  27. Benquo says:

    Infuriatingly, on my browser many lines were only partially reversed, in horizontal slices. Of course I soldiered on because I thought it was part of the joke, only to find out that apparently everyone else has been reading this in perfectly clear boustrophedon.

  28. Jack Gallagher says:

    Hmm… So this style slows me down, and it feels like what’s happening is that my brain is no longer able to pattern match on the shape of the word and instead has to go letter by letter.

    I suspect with practice one could reach speed parity and maybe even overtake previous reading speed, but text parsing is about as much of a bottleneck in reading as typing is in programming. It’s just not the real issue.

    • Nita says:

      my brain is no longer able to pattern match on the shape of the word

      Good point! Perhaps we should only reverse the word order instead?

      But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of
      ,born was pain praising and pleasure a of denouncing
      and I will give you a complete account of the system,
      explorer great the of teachings actual the expound and
      of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness.

      Hmm, there’s still some left-to-right action in word reading. Obviously, we should switch to palindromic vocabulary:

      wow, a nun! madam, did
      level nauruan civic
      evitative sagas? racecar
      a deked stats reviver
      deleveled renner.

      A little limiting at this time. We should consider alternative plural forms (nun-nun? snuns?), propositions and possesives (eye-eye ofo nun).

  29. Sniffnoy says:

    I’ll join several of the other commenters in saying that boustrophedon with fixed letters is easier to read than boustrophedon with reversed letters. (You could also do hypotheticall do boustrophedon with letters that were rotated 180°, which would probably be even easier to read.)

    (Yes, I realize this is a joke, and I don’t think boustrophedon is actually better, but…)

  30. lmm says:

    If you’ve adjusted to Dvorak but want more speed, try putting the mouse on the floor (use a mousemat if it’s carpet) and using your (shoeless) foot. Most people have the dexterity to left click with the big toe and right click with the others, though you may need to adjust the motion sensitivity. It’s not accurate enough for design work, but if you’re just coding it can mean never having to take your hands off the keyboard.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      If you *haven’t* adjusted to Dvorak and are looking for even better keyboard layouts, the Colemak layout is supposed to be even easier.

      But why restrict the space of possibilities to just the layouts people will happen to think of? If you really want to optimize your keyboard layout, look up the CarpalX project. They came up with a systematic way to evaluate keyboard layouts, and then found several optima for it.

      • Thomas says:

        I use one of the carpalx layouts, and it had the disadvantage of not being standard on any computers. I have to manually change configuration files to be able to use it on new computers. I wish I had learned Colemak instead, and may still do so.

      • That’s amazing, and now I wish I could switch to one of those. However, I already switched to Dvorak once, and I’m unlikely to learn another new layout in my lifetime.

      • Anthony says:

        There’s also the Workman Layout which seems to have some advantages, but I haven’t tried it myself.

    • Anon says:

      The trackpoint (a distinct feature on the Thinkpad T series of laptops) is an even better solution than foot-mouse.

  31. AlphaGamma says:

    Incidentally, the reason why Boustrophedon is “the writing of the ox” is that the name means “ox-turning”, as the text follows the same sort of path as an ox ploughing a field.

  32. keranih says:

    For me, this is akin to the attempts to switch to Dvorak keyboards: the primary bottleneck to my ability to communicate clearly is not the speed at which I type nor how fast I can read, but how little time I spend thinking about what I have read/heard or what I am about to say/type.

    Others may have other issues.

  33. Years ago, when I first saw a computer printer with a moving print head that printed lines in alternating directions, I said, “Wow! A boustrephedonic printer!”

  34. Michael Powell says:

    I’m so glad the RSS version doesn’t have the script applied, so I could read it normally.

  35. highlighting it in chrome can decipher the text

  36. Z. L. 'Kai' Burington says:

    So, I’ve been trying to read the Bostrophedon style writing. A few comments.

    – Unfamiliar words (like “bostrophedon”) take a much longer time to read in bostrophedon than they do in left to right.

    – Familiar words, after a short adjustment period, are really easy to read.

    -When strings of familiar words are used with the snaking writing of bostrophedon, it’s actually really pleasing and comfortable to read. And I think my reading retention is up because there’s no jumping from line to line with my eyes, just a continuous stream of text. It fees good.

    The amount of time it takes to read unfamiliar words is a bit of a game killer, but otherwise this is really interesting.


    • Autolykos says:

      Yup, I also find it surprisingly easy to read after a short adjustment period (with the same caveat for unfamiliar/long/surprising words and the occasional mixed-up b/d and p/q). But I also have no trouble reading upside-down, constantly pull on glass doors that have “PULL” printed on the other side, and am mildly dyslexic, so YMMV.

      I also know someone who learned to hold a pencil in both hands, started the line from left and right and met in the middle. Reliably enough that you couldn’t tell after the fact. She was really bored in school…

  37. Alex says:

    I know this is an April Fool’s, but at the same time, it feels like there’s another advantage – it’s really easy to avoid getting adjacent lines mixed up in bigger blocks of text. This would have the same effect on large paragraphs that those lines of dots have in a table of contents or alternate-line highlighting in a spreadsheet, letting you more easily keep your line. (Of course, humans being what they are, this also means that paragraphs will get much bigger…is this still an advantage?)

  38. Stephen Frug says:

    On the off chance that anyone else finds this as irritating as I do (I really bloody hate April Fool’s day (and I don’t care if that’s trendy or not: if it is it’s because it’s right, and if it’s not it should be: bah, humbug)), this seems to undo it on any individual article:
    …incidentally, it’s also a really useful thing (if sometimes fallible) for reading pages with too many bells, whistles, ads, and such rot. I use it all the time. This is the first time I’ve had to use it on this site, however.

  39. monolith94 says:

    Joke’s on you, scott, I’m still reading you through livejournal! Ha!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Holy ****! You’re still around? How are you? I think you might be the single person I have had the longest Internet contact with (if that makes sense).

  40. Leo says:

    You beautiful freak! This is great! I might actually be disappointed if this goes back to normal after April 1st.

  41. Paul Brinkley says:

    Sigh. Why can’t Scott just stick to writing his text forward and getting his logic backwards? You know, like a normal person.

  42. person A says:

    We read words as pictures so this just isn’t going to work well. If people weren’t so used to reading then maybe it would help because they’d be spelling out each word letter-by-letter anyway.

    The obvious solution is to change letters to be left-right symmetrical then implement boustrophedon.

    • Anonymous says:

      The obvious solution is to change letters to be left-right symmetrical then implement boustrophedon.

      Intriguing idea! Are there any scripts or language that are left-right symmetric?

      • person A says:

        Not that I’m aware of. Maybe pictographic languages would work.

        Actually, I can totally read text right-to-left so long as the letters are all forward within each word.

        • Anon says:

          Same here. Or even if the words are left-to-right but the sentence is right-to-level (though this ruins any benefits for the reader in terms of eye movement or speed).

    • RCF says:

      “We read words as pictures”

      Not completely. Words are processed not just in our visual cortex, but also in the language processing parts of the brain. Our brains don’t distinguish between a lion facing left versus a lion facing right; they’re both lions. But a b and a d are recognized as being different things. I think part of the issue of dyslexia is that with their brains, the language processing doesn’t dominate over the image processing to the extent that it does with neurotypical people when looking at words.

  43. nydwracu says:

    [edit: dammit, WordPress doesn’t support Deseret script, there goes that joke]

  44. I actually naturally wrote like that when was 5/6 learning to write! I’m not sure why, just general Spatial Brain Weirdness. Anyway I got trained out of it although I could train myself back into it if I had a good reason, which I don’t.

    • Anthony says:

      If your experience is common, that might explain how boustrophedon came to exist.

    • nike says:

      A lot of kids do that, actually! When we were covering the development of the early Greek alphabets in the History of Indogermanic Languages class, our professor mentioned her daughter did it when she learned how to write. I can still hear the sense of wonder in her voice when she told us about it.

  45. speedwell says:


  46. JRM says:

    com.google is a real site. About what you’d guess.

  47. InferentialDistance says:

    We should just stick everything in marquee tags and achieve maximum efficiency of never having to move our eyes at all!

  48. birdboy2000 says:

    Dating your april fools’ jokes March 31 is cheating.

  49. Sonata Green says:

    The blockquotes and comments are written in
    ‮”traditional” style, which makes them much‪
    harder to read.

  50. meh says:

    I need to stop reading the internet on April 1

  51. Sniffnoy says:

    Well, it’s April 2nd now, and the site is still in boustrophedon…

    • Alternatively, your mind has now adapted, reversing alternate lines in order to undo boustrophedon and make the text readable. Unfortunately, that means that if the text isn’t in boustrophedon … .

    • Anon says:

      This post is. The rest of the site isn’t, for me.

  52. onyomi says:

    Since part of my job is to teach Asian languages, I am fairly often asked why Chinese and Japanese don’t switch to a phonetic alphabet. My answer is that, while it’s not inconceivable that they would some day (I hope they don’t), Chinese characters are harder on the writer and easier on the reader. They reduce ambiguity and pack more information into a smaller space. The only problem is it’s a pain to learn and remember how to write them, and handwriting remains relatively time-consuming even after you get fast. The same dynamic applies to the traditional character set used in Taiwan, versus the simplified used in PRC. The simplified is easier to write (and was originally developed as a kind of shorthand), but the traditional is easier to read.

    For the above reasons, word processing was a much bigger deal for East Asian languages than most others because typewriters were not possible. Some complain that typing software ruins children’s ability to remember how to write the characters, but I think word processing actually probably saved the Chinese character in the long run.

  53. Czernilabut says:

    I’m guessing then that the origin of the idiom “Reading between the lines” was Greek in origin, and actually had to do with instructing someone who was unable to read boustrophedon to re-read the backwards lines to regain the missing context.

    Happy Belated April Fools :P.

  54. Airgap says:

    This Boustrophedon is nice, but it’s far too easy to read. I have a much better version:

    Version: GnuPG v1


    You’re welcome.

  55. Mark S. says:

    Boustrophedon would work much better perhaps with an alphabet that was not chiral. Though maybe not. The ancients used it, but they also read very slowly, sub vocalizing all the words ( per St Augustine Who considered St Ambrose a prodigy for being able to read silently). On a slightly related note, Egyptian could be written any direction, but the text direction was revealed by the direction the bird hieroglyphs were facing.

  56. Steve Sailer says:

    Thomas Jefferson’s 1784 system for surveying the Midwest based on latitude and longitude numbers the 36 squares in each 6 mile by 6 mile unit of land according to a boustrophedonic method:


  57. kfaraday says:

    please ask them to make a browser add-on! i’d be really excited to learn this kind of thing hee