Using Ancient Languages to Understand Our Own

Using Ancient Languages to Understand Our Own

The writings below compare Chinese characters, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Sumerian cuneiform—the oldest scripts—in order to find patterns that help us understand the alphabet's origins. All ancient written languages reflect what was important to humans at the time they were created: sex and procreation. Linguists, who focus on spoken language, say there is no hierarchy to the alphabet, but anything with an order has a top and bottom. We use letters to grade students, meat, and, inversely, breasts: a "D" is a bad grade but a great cup size. Our alphabet is a clue to early human survival strategies. "Z" represented a weapon and used to be the seventh letter. Why did it move to the end if there's no significance to the order? Why are all the letters near "Z"—U, V, W, X, and Y—suggestive of women? (The shape of "Y" means "slave girl" in Chinese.) Read the chapters below for insights into how ancient appetites translated into our current writing system.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The eyes of the Irish often sport a green iris—the circular component that gives eyes their color. The iris is where ire can be spotted because the eyes mirror the mind. Perhaps sticking out with red hair and freckles forced a brawling persona upon the "fighting" Irish. Based on names, Iraq and Iran might share similar pugnacious tendencies. Iris is also the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and leprechauns are known for their continual (occasionally angry) search for a pot of gold at the end of one. A rainbow is considered a messenger, or a flag of peace: irises are the flags of spring.

Where can you get Janis Joplin, philosophy, and Irish whiskey all in one night? Saturday, March 12 O'Neill's SF by AT&T Park.

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