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The Etymology of 'Orthography' - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
January 8th, 2002
12:51 pm


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The Etymology of 'Orthography'
I woke up this morning thinking about orthography. Eventually, I digressed into its etymology, which is Greek, of course. But while I understand the elements, I want to understand why 'orthography' denotes what it does.

The prefix ortho- means straight; right[-angled]; and also correct. Incidentally, the Hebrew adjective 'yashar' can mean those same three, in this same order of frequency.
-graphy means writing; drawing.

So, is orthography:
  • straight writing/drawing
  • right[-angled] writing/drawing
  • [the?] correct writing/drawing
  • ijon is just too naïve, breaking up words like that.
Which of these senses of ortho- was fused into -graphy to create orthography? Webster's Unabridged and Weekley's Etymological failed to put my mind at rest; I bring it to you.

Since you read this far, I give you www.omniglot.com for your trouble.

Current Mood: curiouser
Current Music: Jethro Tull - My God

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2002 04:02 am (UTC)
You might like this reference to a text written somewhere around the end of the 6th century or the beginning of the 7th by St. Isidore:
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2002 06:49 am (UTC)

Thanks! St. Isidore certainly equates ortho- with right (Latin rect), but I don't completely trust early Christian saints in matters of language. I want corroboration! :)
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2002 07:04 am (UTC)
Well, the OED traces the word all the way back to Greek orthographos, and analyses ortho- in the meaning of correct there - if that's any help.

I have to say I don't quite see the important question here. It seems like you're blending several different questions into one vague pseudo-question. What is it that you want to find out?
[User Picture]
Date:January 21st, 2002 08:14 am (UTC)
Yes, the OED is probably informed, so I'll take its reading of ortho-. Thanks for bothering to look this up for me.

There was no important question here -- just a thought I woke up with. What I wanted to find out was exactly what I asked in the entry: why is orthography called 'orthography', and not something else. Since -graphy made sense readily, I wondered about ortho-'s several senses.
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