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Wednesday, January 25, 2017


     In the award-winning musical, My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle--discovered in Covent Garden, declares that she’s sick of words, words, words—the street urchin transformed into a lady wants to be shown not told.

      Words according to Mr. William Shakespeare should: “suit the action to the word, the word to the action…”

      Writers treasure the gift of language—the spoken sounds that led to photographic symbols used to keep accounts. No one agrees on the origin of language but agree the written word evolved through visual methods developed in diverse societies. Towards the end of the fourth millennium B.C. in southern Mesopotamia, a huge increase in population occurred. The city of Uruk, surrounded by secondary settlements outgrew all the other inhabited locations and there were many places of worship ruled by a priest-king. The temple estate’s need for accounting and allotting of revenues led to the transcribing of figures on clay tablets. A century later, word-signs were added. Proto-cuneiform writing on clay and wood are thought to have existed in Turkey and Syria—clay was inexpensive and resilient and a reed or stick used to sketch hieroglyphics into the dampened clay. Writing practices advanced in many different cultures in the Bronze Age. Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese logographs, Mesoamerican(Olmec and Maya) and about 2,000 B.C. the first alphabetic writing by Semitic workers in the Sinai.

     The pith and stems of the Papyrus was used in ancient Egypt as writing material manufactured around the 4th millennium B.C.E. Inexpensive and simple to produce, papyrus was insubstantial and by the 10th century was gradually being replaced by parchment. The invention of wood-pulp paper made writing less expensive.  In 1440, Johann Gutenberg invented printing from separately cast metal types. The press transformed the way populations defined the world they lived in and spread within several decades all over Europe. The exchange of ideas and increased literacy altered society and strengthened the arising middle-class.
     The first story ever written is believed to be The Epic of Gilgamesh written on 12 clay tablets between 1500 and 1200 B.C. and discovered in King Ashurbanipal’s library in Nineveh and is still available in hardback, paperback and eBooks. There is one imprint left on clay tablets and can be read at the British Museum. 
      For us, words may be savored, generate new ideas within our books, suggest plots, belong to a character—our job is to suit the action to the word, the word to the action. Words that show the antagonist’s motivation, and the protagonist’s will to champion a righteous cause. Words that draw the reader into time, place and action and keeps them turning the page.


Marcelle Dubé said...

Cool post, Elise. Thanks for the whirlwind tour of writing history!

Anne Marie Becker said...

Love the history, Elise. As a fellow lover-of-words, thank you! :D

Rita said...

Wow! this is great. Words Words Words indeed!

Elise Warner said...

Marcelle, Anne Marie, Rita: Thank you. guess research does take us on whirlwind tours.

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