Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Homicidal Orthography

I've spent a jolly morning looking at the Murder Map, which is a map of London marking the spot of every homicide, fratricide, patricide, uxoricide &c in London. You can even filter the results by murder weapon. The reason it was such a jolly sight to me was that I appear to live in a small, murderless island. In fact, the only murder round my way was committed with a ligature.

Now that surprised me because, as a linguistic sort of chap, a ligature is just something that connects two letters, and I am afraid of no man who tries to kill me with joined up writing.

A ligature is... well, it's hard to explain, given that blogspot doesn't allow me medieval script but take, for example, double U. You don't see that written down much do you? Looks a bit odd. Double U is the full spelling of the letter W, because the letter double U is made of two ligatured ues (that's something else you don't see much).

Anyway, the reason for my murderous confusion is that ligature comes from the Latin ligare meaning bind. That's why you have ligaments, and medical ligatures which are pieces of thread used roughly like a tourniquet. And if you take some binding string, wrap it round somebody's neck and pull then you have murder by ligature. And if you do that ten minutes walk from me, then I think you're beastly.

It's terrifying to think that this is going on only ten minutes walk from my flat.


  1. I always thought of a ligature as the thing that held reeds onto a clarinet. And that reminds me of another wonderful word, embouchure...

  2. I quite like that map, but it's not complete - I know of at least two murders in South London in the last ten years which aren't featured.

  3. That comment is spectacularly sinister if read in the right way.

  4. What, no Wat !

    On the 15 June 1381 Wat Tyler, leader of the English Peasants' Revolt was killed by the Lord Mayor of London William Walford, Walford got a knighthood, Wat got buried somewhere near the Mile End Road.