How often do we use words and never think of their origin? We learn the English Language as children. How to spell. How to speak. But what do the words really mean? I’ve always been fascinated by etymology, the study of the origin of words. I decided to learn more about a word that has shaped my life up to this point: Write. The word ‘Write’ can be traced back to the mid-5th century and the history of writing originated in the Stone Age. Let’s jump right in and see how an action we do daily all began.
‘Write’ derives from the Germanic languages of the mid-5th century and the mid -12th century. In Old English, it is ‘writan’ which meant to score, outline, or draw the figure of. In Old Norse, write translated to ‘rita’ and ‘rizan’ in Old High German, which also meant to tear, pull, and tug. In most Indo-European languages, it meant to carve, scratch or cut. The reason for this lay in the tools used for inscribing the words or images.
In the Beginning
In prehistoric times, cavemen fashioned a sharpened writing tool from the leg bone of animals they killed. Bone marrow made drawing on caves easier due to its holes and sponge-like consistency, allowing the bone to soak up the colored paste created by the cavemen. Civilizations post-cavemen continued the practice of writing images on stone walls and moved on to hard materials such as clay, bones, bronze, gold, and pottery for creating pictographs and letters. As time progressed, so did the type of base used for writing.
The writing tools evolved, as well. The Greeks created the writing stylus made of metal, bone or ivory to place carvings on wax-coated tablets. The creation of papyrus brought about the use of the quill pen for writing, a tool that is still used today by calligraphy artists and those in the literature field.
The quill pen has become a symbol for writers as evident from the thousands of literature and author websites that display it on their websites in various ways (mine included). It represents the purity of the written word and the beauty of language.
Visit the History World website for a more in-depth read on the history of writing.