It is hard to remember that fonts originated in handwriting, but occasionally reminders, like ligatures, pop up. “Ligature” literally means to bind or tie up, so when two letters are tied together in script, it is called a ligature. Medieval scribes combined letters that shared some part, so they could write faster and conserve space on the page. For example, rather than write fi, they combined the tittle in the i with the end in the f to make the symbol at left. Other common ligatures CONTINUE READING »
Language shapes how we think about the world. Benjamin Whorf, a linguist in the early 1900s, called this phenomenon linguistic relativity. It is often said that the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, but it turns out that’s not true. Eskimo-Aleut languages have about as many words for snow as the English language. But the Sami languages spoken by indigenous people near the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway have hundreds of words for snow. For example, in Lule CONTINUE READING »
On the occasion of Deaf Awareness Week, we wanted to talk about the language of the deaf community, American Sign Language (ASL). Contrary to public perception, ASL is not related to English. ASL, a manual language that relies on movement rather than sound to denote meaning, actually grew out of French Sign Language in the early 1800s. The picture at left depicts finger spelling which uses hand motions to spell words in English but is not part of ASL. CONTINUE READING »
The season we call fall was once referred to simply as “harvest” to reflect the time when farmers gathered their crops for winter storage, roughly between August and November. Astronomically, the season lasts from the end of the September until December, between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. (Want to learn more about the difference between a solstice and an equinox? Find out here.) The word harvest comes from the Old Norse CONTINUE READING »
When talking about fossils, there are a lot of confusing words: Neanderthal, paleoanthropologist, homo erectus. First off, the scientists: paleoanthropologists study extinct ancestors of human beings. Paleo means old or ancient and anthro means relating to human beings.
As readers, we recognize prefixes, like dis-, in-, non- and un-, as expressing negation. We immediately know that “unfair” means “not fair.” However, there are some clear exceptions to these rules. Such anomalies can cause confusion for a few reasons. For one, the prefix in- also literally means “in,” such as inquire, inclose, and insure. The word impromptu for instance comes directly from the Latin phrase CONTINUE READING »
Letters are the most ubiquitous symbols around us. When we learn to read, we train our brains to transform these symbols into sounds and meanings. However, doctors estimate that at least 10% of the population has dyslexia. The term “dyslexia” was invented in 1887 by the German ophthalmologist Rudolf Berlin. It comes from the Greek roots dys meaning difficult and lexia meaning reading. (It is likely CONTINUE READING »
Gotham, the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps: New York City is the emblem of America, to many, especially as we remember the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.
Over the past three centuries, New York has grown to greatly overshadow its namesake, the city of York in northern England. CONTINUE READING »
Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble, Dolce & Gabbana: the ampersand today is used primarily in business names, but that small character was once the 27th part of the alphabet. Where did it come from though? The origin of its name is almost as bizarre as the name itself.
The shape of the character (&) predates the word ampersand by more CONTINUE READING »