A nice little oddity which I thought I'd ask about.

I stumbled across the delightful word 'Boustrophedon' in relation to the scanning actions of some printers (inkjet/dot matrix). I believe that this roughly derives from the notion of 'As the ox ploughs the field'.

I mentioned this to a colleague who had a farming background. He stated that in older times, this isn't actually how an ox would have ploughed the field, owing to the direction the plough would have turned the earth.

Apparently, the field would have been ploughed in spiral pattern to ensure that meeting edges of the plough lines would have their earth turned in the same direction, or 'like the spider builds its web'.

Which got me thinking. Is there a colourful noun of some sort that describes this sort of pattern/action?

  • Since the word bostrophedon meant the same thing in ancient Greek, I would assume that at that time the Greeks, at least, plowed their fields using the back-and-forth pattern. – Peter Shor Dec 9 '16 at 11:59
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    Until the addition of coulters and mouldboards, i don't think there was any issue with back-and-forth ploughing as until that time the furrow would be symmetrical. – Spagirl Dec 9 '16 at 12:33
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    My Random House College Dictionary gives the the following as its first definition of gossamer: "A fine filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, esp. in autumn." The word, cobweb, has negative connotations to both boxers and housewives, but Random House has put a fine spin on it. What's more I think Random House tacked on "esp. in autumn" to give us some hint as to how the word might could be related to all three of "goose," "summer" and "November." P.S. You are not allowed to use "might could," unless you live in Southwest VA. – Airymouse Dec 9 '16 at 13:49
  • @Airymouse You've lost me, where do geese and summer come into this? – Spagirl Dec 9 '16 at 15:00
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    @Airymouse my (East) Texan friends might would disagree with you. – 1006a Dec 9 '16 at 18:08

Since you've started with a word of Greek origin, I'd suggest "helicostrophedon" (which sadly does not turn up any hits in the vast knowledge of the internet).

The prefix helico means:

a combining form meaning “spiral”; used with this meaning and as a combining form of helix in the formation of compound words: helicograph.

The rest of the word could come from bostrophedon:

  • στροφή ‎(strophḗ, “turn”) + -δόν ‎(-dón, “in the manner of”).

Or if you really wanted that spider in the picture, try the prefix arachno. But perhaps this would imply a patient predator or quick, patterned movements more than the helical creation of her web.

  • Thanks. This is perfect, even if it's never been used before :-) – James Wiseman Dec 12 '16 at 9:31

The word "arachnean" is defined by Merriam-Webster as

having the lightness or fineness of texture of a spider's web

Presumably it's not too much of a stretch to use the adjective to refer to the shape of the spider's web as well.

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