Directions

A fun story on Language Log

my granddaughter Opal’s recent writing of the word Embarcadero (the name of a street near where we were having breakfast at the time). She wanted to practice writing things, and she herself chose the word, for reasons I do not know. Her mother spoke the names of the letters one by one, and Opal wrote them down. As it happens, her pen was at the right edge of the page when she started writing, so she just went on from there, writing the letters in order from right to left, and writing each letter in reverse. Perfectly. We cheered this performance, but did tell her that it was backwards, and that other people might have trouble reading it unless they put it up to a mirror. She was somewhat offended by this. She almost always writes left to right, rarely reversing letters, but she seemed to be treating the direction of writing as a matter of stylistic choice.

If you’re a fault-finder, you’ll look at what she wrote and say that this performance was almost entirely wrong. But in fact it was almost entirely right. The only mistake was in the direction of writing.

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