Those Amazing Lines and Squiggles
December 25, 2019 | View PDF
My mother grew up during the Depression. She only had a handful of books at her disposal, and since she loved to read, she read and reread those half dozen books multiple times and treasured each and every one of them. She still had those books when we cleaned out her apartment after her death.
She never forgot the dearth of books in her household as she grew up. She made up her mind that her children would have books at their disposal, and she made good on that vow. I grew up surrounded by publications of all kinds, and I developed a love of reading very early in life. I read books I owned, perused books my mother had in her now rather large library, checked out books and magazines from the library, I borrowed books from friends, and when the annual flea market arrived in town, I haunted the used book booth, spending the $2 I stole from my piggy bank to purchase as many 10 and 15 cent second hand books that I could with my available cash.
Books entertained, they educated, they allowed me to escape to my private world populated with fascinating characters that sometimes took the oddest and most unexpected actions. The best present I could receive at Christmas or a birthday was of course books of any sort.
The amazing fact to me is that publications can educate, instruct, scold, move us to tears, open new horizons, give us a pat on the back, or pass on great tidbits of gossip from which we derive so much pleasure, and no one speaks a word out loud. Merely by combining 26 symbols made up of a combination of lines, squiggles, and curves, we can form thoughts, sentences, and paragraphs of information that can be passed freely to anyone who can read. I can communicate with people miles and continents away, by setting on paper or typing an email these lines and squiggles in an agreed upon way that allows me to share my thoughts with someone else who might not even live in my vicinity.
The ancients who developed the written word really provided humankind with an invaluable tool. The fact that we can combine these 26 symbols in a meaningful fashion that makes sense to people, who can read, boggles my mind. I just finished a book written by a man in the 1800s who lived with Apache Indians for several years. The Apaches had no comprehension of the written word. The author of this book demonstrated to an Apache warrior what marks on paper could do. He wrote on paper that the bearer of the note was to receive some tobacco, he then sent the Apache to the quartermaster in charge of provisions, the quartermaster read the note and handed the young warrior some tobacco. Astounding, that marks on paper make sense and have true meaning.
I am so grateful to the early civilizations that developed the written word, which invented symbols, gave them meaning, and conceived the idea of reading, writing, and all the good things that go along with the written word.
Think of all the entertaining or instructive offshoots other than books or magazines that the alphabet provides, such as pencil puzzles, anagrams, acrostics and word games of all sorts. The incredible ways that people combine words stuns me as well. Those who can create such oddities as palindromes really have my admiration. I mean, how many people could come up with a phrase or sentence that reads the same both forward and backward. We’ve all heard the “Madam, I’m Adam” phrase, but have you also heard the response, “Sir, I’m Iris”? Consider the person who came up with the following three sentences, each of which is a palindrome, and each of which fits together in a meaningful way: “Deb sat in Anita’s bed. Ned sat in Anita’s den. But Anita sat in a tub.”
What fun, and none of it possible without those lines and squiggles that allow us to read and exercise our mind with words and word play. Even sitting in a dentist’s office waiting for the torture chair, I read the posters, pick a word, and see how many other words I can make from that original word. What a great way to spend time when you have to wait for something.
The alphabet and a way to communicate through drawings originated millennia ago. The ancient Egyptians used pictographs or hieroglyphics as a form of writing. The Phoenicians created the first alphabet around 1000 B.C., which became the forerunner of the Latin alphabet, the one that we use today in a greatly modified form. Cursive writing and lower-case letters made an appearance in the Middle Ages. Letters have been added or deleted with time. For example, the letter ‘V’ appeared in the late 18th century, while the letter ‘J’, the last letter added to our modern alphabet, was added in the 19th century.
The next time you read something, consider the marvel of the written word, and its incredible value to us as a civilization.