We write a little history every day

The language and alphabet of the Canaanites can be dated back 3,700 years. It was once the language of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. It was used to create Egyptian documents, the Amarna letters that were written in Akkadian, and in the Hebrew Bible.

So, a recent discovery of a fragment of elephant tusk, bearing the faded inscription of 17 Canaanite letters and 7 words, that could be carbon dated back to 1700 BC, sparked immense interest among historians and biblical scholars alike.

The bone fragment can be seen below – a window into an ancient civilization, a glimpse into the minds and lives of that archaic wisdom.

Scholars pored over the symbols and analyzed the meanings, looked for hidden insights into the mysteries of those revered times.

In this remarkable discovery, researchers finally managed to translate the first sentences of this ancient language, a language where almost no complete sentences now exist.

“This is the first sentence ever found in the Canaanite language in Israel,” said Professor Yosef Garfinkel, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “This is a landmark in the history of the human ability to write,” he added.

And what did it reveal of the lives of those ancient peoples?

Beard lice. The Canaanites had beard lice. Well, the men anyway—who am I to say if, or where the women had lice?

Male human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis.

The inscription is on a beard comb and the words spell out “”May this tusk root out the lice of the beard!”

It just goes to show that not all that gets passed down in the written word from those older times is necessarily all mighty revelation. Neither is the seemingly mundane without value.

Lachish, were the comb was discovered was a major Canaanite city state, and the second most important city in Judah, the biblical kingdom. To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found in Lachish, more than at any other site in Israel – but until now never in a full sentence. The word structure give scholars more insight into the now dead language of that ancient tribe than they ever had before. And of course the knowledge that head lice were a real bitchy itchy of a problem, even for those affluent enough to own inscribed pieces of elephant tusk.

You can read some of my, soon to be rendered historical words, by following the link below. I guarantee all other blog posts and books to be almost 85% lice free.


An interrobang, or a dog’s cock‽

It’s been quite a week in sleepy Somerset. I thought I had finished my latest WIP. It topped out at around 75,000 words. I closed it down for a few days thinking I was ready for a round of submissions to a literary agent or three. When I opened it back up I ended writing another 8,000 words, so now I have to go back to editing!

The title of this week’s blog isn’t edgy and controversial for no good reason—although I am certainly not above a bit of good old fashioned Anglo Saxon swearing, they are, after all, just words, and they are kind of my stock in trade these days. The title is germane to this week’s topic—punctuation.

Isn’t it funny how as a writers we use common forms of punctuation without considering why in fact they exist in the forms that they do.

Take the exclamation mark. Its origins are believed to be Latin. The most likely theory is that in Latin the exclamation of joy was ‘io‘. In Latin the i was written above the o and all letters were capitalized. Written in this way it looks a lot like an exclamation point. Makes sense.

With the advent of email and subsequently social media, the use of the exclamation mark has become rather ubiquitous. They can be found liberally scattered throughout every facebook post and Twitter tweet and often appear nested, presumably to demonstrate how truly brimming with joy the tweeter believes his/her/their post to be!!!

It wasn’t always the case. For the longest time they were considered the tool of the fool by most in the writing/publishing industry.

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” Elmore Leonard wrote of exclamation marks: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Which means, on average, an exclamation mark every book and a half (makes note to check how many I have used in my current WIP—it’s certainly more than one!).

Prior to the 1970’s the exclamation mark didn’t even appear on typewriter keyboards. Before that, you had to type a period, and then use the backspace to go back and stick an apostrophe above it. When dictating letters to typists people would say “bang” to mark the exclamation point and those crude and roguish workers in the printing industry called them dog’s cocks.

Things change over time of course, although punctuation marks tend to do so slowly. The interrobang was a notable exception. It was invented in the 1960’s by Martin K. Speckter who wanted a way to convey a form of energy added to a question “you are wearing that to Mom’s funeral‽”

Clashing shirt, jacket and tie

As you can see, the interrobang takes the form of a question mark (interro from interrogatio, the Latin for ‘rhetorical question’ or ‘cross-examination’) overlayed with the bang. Could have been worse, it might have been called the interro-dog’s-cock if it had been left down to our printing friends.

Interrobang image

It made its way briefly onto the keyboard of Remington typewrites before falling entirely out of fashion by the time the 1970’s rolled around. But it does still exist, albeit in an informal use, and can be used in addition to the fourteen more formal punctuation marks such as the comma, the period, the ellipsis and the colon, which incidentally used to be called by those pesky printers, the dog’s bollocks, for obvious reasons :—

I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog. Feel free to like and share and follow along for more fascinating,—if mostly useless, facts and updates on current writing projects.

All my books are available on your local Amazon store and always free on Kindle Unlimited.

BTW – if you wish to visit the pub in the featured image, it is a real pub but you will have to get to Toronto to enjoy it.

I hope you really enjoyed the read‽

A blog wot I wrote…

Language is a strange thing when you pause to truly consider it. And writing is another. I found this on social media the other day. I thought that it really captured the magic that the written word can evoke.

Read this to yourself. Read it silently.

Don’t move your lips. Don’t make a sound.

Listen to yourself. Listen without hearing anything.

What a wonderfully weird thing, huh?




Now, hear a whisper. A tiny whisper.

Now, read this next line with your best crotchety-old-man voice:

“Hello there, sonny. Does your town have a post office?”

Awesome! Who was that? Whose voice was that?

It sure wasn’t yours!

How do you do that?


Must be magic…

And for the grammar police and pedants out there, I am aware that the title of the blog is not exactly grammatical. My reason is a small homage to Ernie Wise, who was part of a UK comedy duo back in the 1970’s called Morecambe and Wise. Ernie Wise fancied himself as a playwright, and every week the duo (with amazingly famous guest stars) would perform his naff new play. His classic line of introduction was always “and now, a play wot I wrote…”

But language and with it, over time, the rules of grammar, always evolve. Shakespeare is famously credited with the creation of over 1,700 words, many of which have fallen into common usage, obscene, worthless and puppy-dog amongst them.

And ahead of a changing language, our alphabet has also continually evolved. I found this graphic really interesting:

Graphic showing the evolution of our alphabet from early hieroglyphs

Many writing systems stem from Egyptian hieroglyphs dating back to 1850 B.C. and the chart allows you to trace our modern alphabet all the way back to their origins.

Different cultures took elements of Egyptian writing and adapted them to sounds in their own language. For example, the Phoenicians took an existing hieroglyph, a wavy line that stood for n, (the initial character in nt and nwy meaning ‘water’) and used it instead to stand for the initial sound of their own word for water mayim; it would later become our letter m. How cool is that?

The letter A resembles the head of animal with horns. It is fitting because, in ancient Semitic, the letter originally translated to ‘ox.’

Take a look at the letter E. About 3,800 years ago, the letter ‘E’ was pronounced as an ‘H’ in the Semitic language. It looked like a stick figure of a human with two arms and one leg. In 700 BC, the Geeks flipped it, and they changed the pronunciation into an ‘ee’ sound.

Many of the letters origins are surprisingly familiar. Particularly when you consider how their forms have evolved, often due to being reversed (since the Phoenicians wrote from right to left) and often, over the course of a millennia, turned on their sides. If you don’t immediately recognize an early letter, try rotating it in your mind.

And then there are more modern introductions. The ancient Greeks gave us ‘U’, ‘V’, ‘W’ and ‘Y’. It originally resembled ‘Y’ and the Greeks called it ‘upsilon’ and pronounced it ‘waw’. The Romans used V and U interchangeably and then the letter ‘W’ entered use during the Middle Ages, with the scribes of Charlemagne writing two ‘u’s’ side by side, separated by a space. At that time the sound made was similar to ‘v.’ The letter finally appeared in print as a unique letter ‘W’ in around 1700.

It all slowly fed into the Indo-European language family which includes English. The Indo-European language family includes more than 400 other languages. English shares strong common roots with German but also with Spanish and French as well as Bengali, Polish and Persian.

This beautiful chart by Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish comic artist, shows some of English’s closest cousins, like French and German, but also its more distant relationships with languages originally spoken far from the British Isles such as Farsi and Greek.

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Cheers! Santé! Salud! Sei Gesund! Будем здоровы. 乾杯