Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Sunday, 5 May 2002

# 5:45 PM


My art project is done: twenty-four obsidian (I think) pebbles with symbols carved into them:

ᚠᚢᚦᚫᚱᚲ  ᚷᚹᚺᚾᛁᛃ
ᛇᛈᛉᛋᛏᛒ  ᛖᛗᛚᛜᛟᛞ

—that is, the Elder Futhark, also known as the runic alphabet. If you transliterate all the symbols into the Latin alphabet it comes out "FUThARKGWHNIJYPZSTBEMLNgOD", and now perhaps you see where "futhark" comes from: it's the first six letters glommed together, as if we were to call our alphabet the abcdef. Which, if you think about it, we do, only in Greek.

There are a lot of "extended" futharkim: all the cultures that borrowed the original set from the Norse added letters so they could have all their phonemes represented. This one doesn't do so badly for English; the only letters missing, compared to the conventional orthography, are CQVX, and in exchange you get single letters for "th" and "ng" which would come in handy. In fact, in older books (we're talking Old and Middle English here), "the" was occasionally written þe. This was misread by medieval monks as "ye", and now you know where that alternate spelling came from.

I think it's interesting that the correct plural for "futhark" uses the Hebraic "-im" suffix. Ain't English fun?