Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Dear Realspellers,

I was doing an investigative study on the base _cross_ with all levels from elementary to adults. Students started off by making their own groupings to organize the hundreds of _cross_ words . Words to do with intersecting_ crossword_, moving positions _crosscountry_ , mixing _ cross-breed_, moving against or towards_ cross-fire_ etc. One student found _crisscross_ and didn’t know what  the _criss_ meant. I didn’t either. We looked it up on etymonline and I was so intrigued that I thought this just has to be a post.

crisscross (v.)
1818, from M.E. crist(s)-crosse "Christ's cross" (late 15c.), earlier cros-kryst (late 14c.), "referring to the mark of a cross formerly written before the alphabet in hornbooks. The mark itself stood for the phrase Christ-cross me speed ('May Christ's cross give me success'), a formula said before reciting the alphabet" [Barnhart]. Used today without awareness of origin. As an adj., from 1846; as a noun, from 1848.

Not having a clue what the heck hornbooks were I found this description of it in;

In treating of the history and use of the hornbook in America, it is necessary first to study the history of the hornbook in the old world. The hornbook, in point of fact is not a book at all. Originally it was a piece of board with a handle shaped like the battledore in the old game of battledore and shuttle cock. On the face of the hornbook was either a piece of vellum or paper upon which the lesson was inscribed. This was protected by a sheet of translucent horn. This protection was of course necessary to keep the lesson from the possible stain of a pair of dirty little hands, as the hornbook was passed about from child to child. It has first the cross, then the alphabet in small letters, the vowels, and then the capitals. Below these are combinations of the consonants and vowels, then the Exorcism and the Lord’s Prayer.




I have visions of unemployed battledore and shuttle cock craftsmen somehow restructuring their workshops with the discovery of how to turn cow’s horns into translucent protective sheets - the first ever laminated item in a school. Students must have been envious to see the rich kid with these new LCD like screen hornbooks and would have begged their parents for the latest model.  More to the point, it was a brilliant marketing technique to use the crisscross at the beginning of the alphabet. It would have imprinted the image of the cross and all its associations with the daily recitation of the alphabet. Corporations surely have built on this idea from McDonalds’ insidious use of free Happy Meal toys to Mac’s apple on today’s hornbooks - the iphone, ipod and the ipad.




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