Water Trumpets

Last night while talking about the weather in French, as you do, one expression that came up was une trombe d’eau, which means a cloudbust, downpour or waterspout [source]. There have been several of these this week.

The word trombe [tʁɔ̃b] on its own means waterspout or whirlwind [source]. It comes from the Italian tromba (trumpet, horn, bugler, well, shaft), possibly from the Frankish *trumba (trumpet), which is of imitative origin [source].

Other phrases featuring trombe include:

  • entrer en trombe = to burst in, storm in
  • sortir en trombe = to burst out, storm out
  • partir en trombe = to accelerate away
  • passer en trombe = to zoom past, hurtle past

A related word from the same roots is trompe [tʁɔ̃p], which means a trumpet, the trunk of an elephant [source] or a squinch (a small arch, corbelling, etc, across an internal corner of a tower, used to support a superstructure such as a spire) [source].

Shiny brass 3

Another word with the same roots is tromper [tʁɔ̃.pe] (to deceive, cheat on, disapoint, elude), which comes from the Old French tromper (to tramp, trump, delude), from trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source].

The English word trumpet also comes from the same roots, via the Old French trompette (trumpet), a diminutive or trompe [source]. As does the word trombone, via the Italian trombone (trombone, annoying or boring person), from tromba (trumpet) and -one (augmentative suffix) [source].

The trump an elephant makes, which is also a slang word for flatulence in the UK, and used to mean a trumpet, comes from the Old French French trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source]. However trump as in a trump card or a suit in cards is thought to come from the French triomphe (triumph), or the Old French triumphe, from the Latin triumphus (a hymn in honour of Bacchus, a triumph or celebration), from the Old Latin triumpus, from the Etruscan *𐌈𐌓𐌉𐌀𐌌𐌐𐌄 (*θriampe), from the Ancient Greek θρίαμβος (thríambos – a hymn to Dionysus) [source].

Turning Oxen

Ploughing

Some early alphabets, such as Ancient Greek, Latin and Etruscan were written in a style known as boustrophedon [ˌbuːstrəˈfiːdən], which involves alternate lines of a text being reversed, with letters also written in reverse. Here’s an example in Old / Archaic Latin:

Article 1 of the UDHR in Old Latin

The first and third lines of this text are written from right to left, while the second and fourth lines are written from left to right.

Transliteration
Opnēs hemones decnotāti et iouesi louberoi et parēs gnāscontor, rationes et comscientiās particapes sont, quibos enter sēd comcordiās studēōd agontinom est.

Translation
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Translation (boustrophedon style)
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in English written in boustrophedon style

The word boustrophedon could be translated literally as “like the ox turns [while plowing]”. It comes from βοῦς [bûːs] (ox), στροφή [stro.pʰɛ̌ː] (turn), and the adverbial suffix -δόν [dón] (like, in the manner of) [source].

From βοῦς we get such English words as beef, bovine, buffalo, butter and bulima [source], and the word cow comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as βοῦς*gʷṓws (cattle) [source].

The word στροφή is the root of the English word strophe, which refers to “A turn in verse, as from one metrical foot to another, or from one side of a chorus to the other”, and appears in words like apostrophe and catastrophe [source].

The old Mayan script was written in a way similar to boustrophedon: in paired columns zigzagging downwards from left to right.

Sample of Mayan writing in the Mayan hieroglyphic script
From: Flickr

Chinese, Japanese and Korean could be also be written in this way but aren’t, as far as I know. They could also be written in other directions as illustrated below.

Examples of boustrophedon writing in Chinese

The text on the left starts on the top left and runs in vertical columns running from alternatively from top to bottom and bottom to top. The text on the right starts at the bottom right and runs in horizontal lines alternating from right to left and left to right.

If you’re thinking of created a writing system, one thing to consider is giving it a unique writing direction. This might inspire you.