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Boustrophedon (pronounced /ˌbaʊstrɵˈfiːdən/ or /ˌbuːstroʊˈfiːdən/; from Greek βουστροφηδόν "ox-turning"—that is, turning like oxen in ploughing), is a type of bi-directional text, mostly seen in ancient manuscripts and other inscriptions.[1] Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters. Rather than going left-to-right as in modern English, or right-to-left as in Hebrew and Arabic, alternate lines in boustrophedon must be read in opposite directions. Also, the individual characters are reversed, or mirrored.

The name "boustrophedon" is taken from the Greek language. Its etymology is from βούς—bous, "ox" + στρέφειν—strephein, "to turn" (cf. strophe), because the hand of the writer goes back and forth like an ox drawing a plough across a field and turning at the end of each row to return in the opposite direction (i.e., "as the ox ploughs"). It was a common way of writing in stone in Ancient Greece.[2]



Many ancient scripts, such as Safaitic and Sabaean, were frequently or typically written boustrophedonically, but in Greek it is found most commonly on pre-historic and archaic inscriptions, becoming less and less popular throughout the Hellenistic period.

By analogy, the term may be used in other areas to describe this kind of alternation of motion or writing. For example, it is occasionally used to describe the print head motion of certain dot matrix computer printers. In that case, while the print head moves in opposite directions on alternate lines, the printed text is usually not in boustrophedon format.[3]

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