Posted by: Didapper PJ8 SEP 2011
. . . [That’s enough of that. — Ed.].
Boustrophedon is the name given by the ancient Greeks to an archaic practice of presenting every second line of text in mirror writing from right to left. The word literally means “as the ox turns”, after the way an ox pulling a plough doubles back at the edge of the plot to cut the next furrow in the opposite direction.
Although the Greeks invented Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns, they did not manage to invent the text column, so when they spread text across a broad surface they sometimes plumped for the zigzag method on the bizarre assumption that the reader could cope with mirror writing more easily than with following a long line back to its beginning and then moving the eye down to read the next line.
Nowadays, newspaper and magazine typographers generally consider that easy reading requires text in columns of some 50–75 characters per line. The current design of The Journal follows this convention, except in the case of four-column pages like last word, which have no more than 35 or so characters on a line.
Books tend to have longer lines, but they use bigger type sizes, and book designers often insist on substantial leading between the lines to help the eye track back across the page.
Unfortunately, organisations with valuable information to proclaim do not always try to present it in an easy-to-read form and may publish it as narrowly spaced text stretched across the width of an A4 page. I have in front of me an important document from a UK pharmacy body that uses dense text with well over 100 characters per line. It is off-puttingly hard to read.
Distributors of information should pay more attention to readibility, though preferably not by resorting to boustrophedon.