Week twenty-eight: FUTHORC (probability 26001), by David Sutton

FUTHORC (or FUTHARC or FUTHARK or FUTHORK) is the name for an alphabet used in Anglo-Saxon times, descended from the ancient runic alphabet used by Germanic tribes from the second to eight centuries. It takes its name from its first 6 letters (note that 'th' counts as one letter, being represented by a single character called thorn). All the characters of the futhorc can be written using straight lines only, facilitating its use for making inscriptions on stone and other durable materials. The futhorc was replaced over time by the Latin alphabet and its use had more or less died out by the time of the Norman conquest. Our word list still preserves a few of the names of the individual runes: AESC, the rune for ae, THORN as mentioned above, and WYN or WYNN, the rune for w.

We also have a number of other words relating to exotic scripts or alphabets. There is, for example, the Irish OGAM or OGHAM, giving us adjectives OGAMIC, OGHAMIC or OGMIC, and the Persian NASTALIK, a cursive script with long horizontal strokes and rounded characters. Then there is the wedge-shaped Egyptian CUNIFORM or CUNEIFORM, with adjective CUNEATIC, and the NAGARI or DEVANAGARI in which Sanskrit is usually printed. Japanese gives us HIRAGANA and KATAKANA, together with ROMAJI, a system of transliterating Japanese into the Latin alphabet. PINYIN is a system of romanizing Chinese ideograms, while HANGUL is an alphabetic script for Korean.

Finally, and less usefully, we have ESTRANGELO or ESTRANGHELO, a cursive form of the old Syrian alphabet, which takes its name from Greek strongylos, round. This is the same root that gives us STRONGYL, a word the experts love to play in the hope of drawing forth a challenge from less-informed opponents who may assume that STRONGLY was intended. So, next time someone asks you the connection between a parasitic threadworm and an old Syrian alphabet, you will know...


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