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318614.  Thu Apr 17, 2008 12:45 pm Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
Lots of sources here:, including some which predate the war.

Flash, this is an article about Queueing Theory which is a part of a branch of mathematics called operations research (Not one I particularly fancied I must say). It tries to find 'models' (i.e. systems of equations) that describe real world situations like calls arriving at a call centre and cars joining a motorway. I always found it remarkably unsuccessful at dealing with anything remotely realistic and so gave it up as soon as I could. I don't think that because Queueing Theory existed it should be cited as existence of Queues in general.

I suppose one could say that they existed in theory though.

318872.  Thu Apr 17, 2008 4:50 pm Reply with quote

Look, if you want to show up my ignorance you can jolly well get in line.

319085.  Fri Apr 18, 2008 4:44 am Reply with quote

But this is wonderful! We’ve potentially got a field of study preceding in existence the thing it studies! That’s got to be worth a point, surely.

329283.  Fri May 02, 2008 4:43 pm Reply with quote

According to a calendar I saw in Rite-Aid today (and those are never wrong, are they?) the first Boy Scout to become president of the USA was John F Kennedy. It didn't say whether he was a boy scout before or at the time.

445327.  Tue Nov 25, 2008 8:22 am Reply with quote

In case we get taken to task over the business about St Ambrose being the first to read without moving his lips, there's a lengthy article on the subject by Mat's mate Barry Baldwin in the Nov 2008 Fortean Times (FT242, p21). He does come up with lots of clear references to silent reading which pre-date Ambrose but they're all classical so I think we're OK because our claim is that Ambrose was the first in medieval Europe. Our view is supported by Alberto Manguel in A History of Reading (Flamingo, 1996, ch2) though it's fair to say that Baldwin, who is a careful researcher, doesn't buy it.

826896.  Sun Jun 26, 2011 11:44 am Reply with quote

What has not been addressed here is why St. Ambrose's ability was worthy of comment.

Fry gave the impression that any modern person, if transported back to St. Ambrose's day would be as equally remarkable as he.

However this is not the case.

Well, not quite. Until the invention of spaces between words by Irish and English monks in the 7th and 8th centuries, writing was in *Scriptura/scriptio Continua*: which is to say written without any division between words, sentences, or paragraphs, without punctuation, without any form of capitalization. When writing reached the end of a line the word was broken across lines by how many letters could be fitted into the line with no attention paid to pronunciation or syllables.

Scriptio Continua was very difficult to read (so much so there were professional readers who could be hired to read a book for/to you) and almost impossible to distinguish syllables and word boundaries unless vocalised.

Some practiced readers could sub-vocalise, so although their reading was silent, they were mouthing the syllables and words. But this process had to be gone through first before a reader could then tackle the *sense* of what was written.

Thus St Ambrose's ability to read silently without even moving his lips was a remarkable feat of mental gymnastics.

"Pause and Effect: Punctuation in the west" by M B Parkes. [ISBN 978-0-85967-742-4] pages 11-13.
"Space Between Words: the origins of silent reading" by Paul Saenger, [ISBN-13:978-0-8047-4016-6] chapters 1 and 2

826968.  Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:36 pm Reply with quote

Now that's interesting, and it's a pity we didn't know it at the time!

826975.  Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:08 pm Reply with quote

you're welcome :-) Unfortunately I'm rather behind QI because I discovered it via the DAVE repeats.

If you ever do anything on Charlemagne you could use this because it is often cited as proof he was illiterate that he'd books read to him - but that was normal practice at the time, because of Scriptio Continua, so it does not prove anything one way or the other!

Writing systems, and of course palaeography, are my hobby (typography was once my profession) so if there's anything coming up that's to do with writing I'm willing to have it run by me.

827123.  Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:56 am Reply with quote

Thanks for the offer, Barbara-B. Of course, you may have to wait a while. The earliest I can think of is the L series for literacy :)

827151.  Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:12 am Reply with quote

Found this on Wiki, very difficult to read.

Wiki wrote:

827154.  Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:14 am Reply with quote

Thanks Efros - that makes the difficulty very clear.

827419.  Tue Jun 28, 2011 6:00 am Reply with quote

I found that reasonably straightforward to read, although I feel it was made artificially difficult by choosing something very old-fashioned and written in an elaborate style. Who the hell uses words like "unleaving" anyway?

Here's a bit of more normal text rendered as Scriptio Continua:


The only problems I have reading that are telling when one sentence ends and the next one begins, and the word "inscriptions" took me a wee while to decipher. Apart from that, it seems pretty straight-forward.

827487.  Tue Jun 28, 2011 10:40 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
I found that reasonably straightforward to read, although I feel it was made artificially difficult by choosing something very old-fashioned and written in an elaborate style. Who the hell uses words like "unleaving" anyway?

One of my favourite poets, as it happens. See

You can find the whole poem in its proper layout here.

827495.  Tue Jun 28, 2011 10:52 am Reply with quote

Chinese, Japanese, and Thai continue to be written as scriptio continua. They are not quite as impenetrable as those examples above because they do use punctuation, although even that was rare before the C20.

The Devanagari script used for Hindi by now divides words in much the same way as do Roman alphabet languages - but that is because of the influence of English in India, and again was not usual before the C20.

All Roman alphabet languages by now use spaces, although they are somewhat arbitrary in some languages (notably Greenlandic and Inuktitut, and it's notable that those Greenlanders who do not also read and write Danish tend to use rather few spaces).

The idea of placing a space between words is claimed as an Irish invention of the seventh century.

827501.  Tue Jun 28, 2011 11:11 am Reply with quote

Greek, Latin, and Coptic Scriptio Continua was written in a script called Uncial and its variants, in which every third or forth word was an abbreviaton. It was a much more difficult script to read than our modern writing, the legibility of which has gradually improved over the centuries (Carolingian and Humanist spring to mind) and particularly since printing which standardised letterforms and orthography.

Here's a Greek example;


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