Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 2018

Genesis 10-11: The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel, God's-eye view. Noah’s boys had a lot of children, and over the next couple of centuries they constructed all of civilization on the Fertile Crescent.   Among Noah’s grandchildren was Shem’s boy, named Nimrod, who, perhaps driven by the trauma of having such an unfortunate moniker, was driven enough to be the first king, setting up shop in Babel. “We’re proud to be Babelonian,” said these people, who were caught up in a patriotic fervor.   They set out to build a tower that reached the heavens, somehow afraid that if they didn’t have such a tower, their unity would come apart.   God came down from the heavens to see what was going on.   “This unity is a problem,” God said.   “I need to do something about that.   United, they can accomplish anything, and I don’t want that.   Probably better that they don’t.”   So God invented new languages, splitting up the groups, rendering them unintelligible to one another.   The people couldn’t comprehend one a

Interrobang: The Latest Punctuation Mark

With the addition of the letter J to the Roman alphabet in the early 16th century, languages that use that alphabet haven’t seen any new letters.  It’s hard to make the case for a new letter once literacy is widespread, since at that point, most everyone will already agree that the letters currently in use are enough.  The same thing goes for punctuation marks: who needs a new one, and how can you convince anyone to adopt it?   You’d need marketing skills to pull that off. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that it took an ad man to invent and promote a new punctuation mark, which he did with some success.  This visionary was Martin K. Speckter, the head of Martin K. Speckter and Associates, a Manhattan advertising agency.   In 1962, Speckter proposed the addition of a new punctuation mark in an article he wrote for Typetalks magazine, a trade publication about printing and typography.  The idea was that advertisers needed a new punctuation mark to convey disbelief.   For example, th

The Lost Letter Eth (ð)

Capital and lowercase letter eth.  May Þey rest in peace. In Old English and Middle English there were two letters that we don’t use today: Þ and Ð (called thorn and eth —written in lowercase as Þ and ð).  Thorn was the hard th sound, like you hear in the word then ; eth could be used for the soft th sound, as in thin , but could also be used for the hard th .  Eth slowly disappeared from English writing, falling out of use by the year 1300.  Thorn lasted a while longer, maybe another century, but its demise was hastened by the popularity of printing.  Signs and handbills were printed on paper with sets of wooden blocks.  The best blocks came from Germany and Italy, where the languages don’t have the th sound at all, so these sets included no thorn or eth blocks.  To fill the need of the missing thorn, printers would just use the letter Y instead.  This is why you would often see medieval signs like “Ye Olde Bakery”.  This is just because the printers couldn’t print “Þe