10 Endangered Alphabets You Should See Before It's Too Late

The Glagolitic script carved into wood
The Glagolitic script carved into wood
Courtesy of Tim Brookes

The Arabic and Simplified Chinese scripts aren't in danger of going anywhere anytime soon, but the same can't be said for Balinese, Mali, Pahawh (or Pahauh) Hmong, and the other 100-some alphabets that Vermont-based writer Tim Brookes has cataloged in his online Atlas of Endangered Alphabets, which is set for a soft launch on January 17. The featured alphabets—which Brookes has loosely defined to include writing systems of all sorts—are vanishing for varied reasons, including government policies, war, persecution, cultural assimilation, and globalization.

“The world is becoming much more dependent on global communications and those global communications take place in a relatively small number of writing systems—really something between 15 and 20,” Brookes tells Mental Floss. “And because that’s the case, all the others are to some degree being eroded.”

The atlas will include a bit of background information about each alphabet as well as links to any organizations attempting to revive them. By creating a hub for these alphabets, Brookes hopes to connect people who want to preserve their language and culture, while also showing the world how beautiful and intricate some of these scripts—including the 10 below—can be.

1. Cherokee

Although the Manataka American Indian Council says an ancient Cherokee writing system may have existed at one point but was lost to history, Cherokee was more or less a spoken language up until the early 19th century. Around 1809, a Cherokee man named Sequoyah started working on an 86-character writing system known as a syllabary, in which the symbols represent syllables. Most remarkably, Sequoyah himself had never learned how to read. At the time, many Native Americans deeply distrusted writing systems, and Sequoyah was put on trial for witchcraft after tribal leaders caught wind of his new creation. However, once they realized that written Cherokee could be used to preserve their language and culture, they asked Sequoyah to start teaching the syllabary. “The Cherokee achieved 90 percent literacy more rapidly than any other people in history that we know of,” Brookes says. “[Sequoyah’s syllabary] is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time.”

After a period of decline in the years following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Cherokee language education saw somewhat of a revival in the late 20th century. The predominance of English and the Latin alphabet has made these efforts an uphill battle, though. Brookes says it’s difficult to find people who can teach the script, and even among Cherokee translators, few are confident in their grasp of the writing system.

2. Inuktitut

A stop sign containing the Inuktitut script
A stop sign in Nunavut, Canada
Sébastien Lapointe, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Nine different writing systems are used among Canada’s 59,500 Inuit. Many of these are based on the Latin alphabet, but the one shown above uses syllabics that were first introduced by European missionaries in the 19th century. Since it’s difficult and costly to represent each of these writing systems in official documents, many Inuit officials write and hold meetings in English, all but ensuring the demise of their mother tongue. However, Canada’s national Inuit organization, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, is now in the process of developing one common script for all Inuit. “Our current writing systems were introduced through the process of colonization,” the organization writes on its website. “The unified Inuktut [the collective name for Inuit languages] writing system will be the first writing system created by Inuit for Inuit in Canada.” It remains to be seen what that script will look like.

3. Glagolitic

A tablet containing the Glagolitic script
The Baška tablet, which was made around the year 1100
Neoneo13, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

It’s widely believed that Glagolitic, the oldest known Slavic script, was invented by missionaries Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius around 860 CE in an effort to translate the Gospels and convert the Slavs to Christianity. The name Glagolitic stems from the Old Church Slavonic word glagolati, meaning to speak. Some of the symbols were lifted from Greek, Armenian, and Georgian, while others were entirely new inventions. Nowadays, academics are typically the only ones who can decipher the script, but some cultural institutions have made efforts to preserve its legacy. In 2018, the National and University Library in Zagreb launched an online portal containing digitized versions of Glagolitic texts. In addition to being a source of Croatian heritage and pride, the alphabet has also become an object of tourist fascination. Visitors can view monuments containing Glagolitic symbols along the Baška Glagolitic Path on the Croatian island of Krk. And in Zagreb, the capital city, it’s not hard to find gift shops selling merchandise adorned with Glagolitic writing. However helpful this may be to the tourism sector, it's no guarantee that more Croatians will want to start learning the script.

4. Mandombe

The Mandombe script
Moyogo, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

This African script is unusual for several reasons. For one, the Mandombe alphabet reportedly came to David Wabeladio Payi—a member of the Kimbanguist church in the Democratic Republic of Congo—in a series of dreams and spiritual encounters in the late ‘70s. One day, he was looking at his wall when he noticed that the mortar between the bricks seemed to form two numbers: five and two. He believed these were divine clues, so he set out to create a series of symbols based off those shapes. Eventually, he assigned the symbols phonographic meaning and turned it into an alphabet that could be used by speakers of the Kikongo and Lingala languages. Perhaps most remarkably, the pronunciation changes depending on how the symbols are rotated. “It’s one of about three writing systems in the world where that’s true,” Brookes says. Unlike most of the other alphabets on this list, Mandombe is growing in popularity rather than declining. However, because it’s primarily being taught in Kimbanguist schools and used only for religious texts, it will be a challenge to convince the rest of the population to start using it. Elsewhere in the country, the Latin alphabet is used (French is the official language). “What it’s up against is, in essence, exactly the same forces that a declining script is up against,” Brookes says. For this reason, many new alphabets can be considered endangered.

5. Ditema tsa Dinoko

In a similar vein, Ditema tsa Dinoko is also a minority script, and it's too new to tell if it will stick around. A team of South African linguists, designers, and software programmers invented this intricate, triangular-shaped alphabet in just the last decade in hopes of forging a single script that could be used by speakers of indigenous languages in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Because the symbols were inspired by artworks and beadwork designs that are typical of the region, the alphabet is also a celebration of culture. “One of the really interesting features of African alphabets is how deeply embedded they are in what we would call graphic design,” Brookes says. “Instead of imitating the shapes or structures or layout of other writing systems, such as our alphabet, they often start from a completely different point of view and draw on designs that are found in war paintings, weaving textiles, pottery, and all of those other available graphic elements.” The colors used in the alphabet aren't necessary to understand the script, but they hark back to the alphabet's artistic origins while also functioning as a kind of font. For instance, different writers may use different colors to give their text "a certain feel or emotional resonance," Brookes says.

6. Mandaic

The Mandaic script
Courtesy of Tim Brookes

This ancient, mystic script dates back to the 2nd century CE and is still being used by some Mandaeans in Iraq and Iran. According to mythology, the language itself predates humanity, and the script was historically used to create religious texts. Charles Häberl, now an associate professor of Middle Eastern languages and literatures at Rutgers University, wrote in a 2006 paper that Mandaic is “unlike any other script found in the modern Middle East." And unlike most scripts, it has changed very little over the centuries. Despite its enduring quality, many of the speakers in Iraq have fled to other countries since the U.S. invasion in 2003. As these speakers assimilate into new cultures, it becomes more challenging to maintain their linguistic traditions.

7. Lanna

The Lanna script
Courtesy of Tim Brookes

According to Brookes, the Lanna script was primarily used during the time of the Lanna Kingdom in present-day Thailand from the 13th century to the 16th century. It’s still used in some regions of northern Thailand, but faces stiff competition from the predominant Thai script. The word Lanna translates to "land of a million rice fields." The script is one of Brookes’s personal favorites as far aesthetics are concerned. “It is so extraordinarily fluid and beautiful,” he says. “They developed this script to indicate not only consonants, but then the consonants have vowel markings and other consonant markings and tonal markings both above and below the main letters, and so you have this amazingly joyous and elaborate writing system, and it’s like a pond of goldfish. Everything is just curving around and swimming in all these different directions.”

8. Dongba

The Dongba script
Courtesy of Aubrey Wang

Members of the Naxi ethnic minority in China’s Yunnan province have been using this colorful pictographic script for well over 1000 years. The pictures stand for tangible objects like mud, mountains, and high alpine meadows, as well as intangible concepts such as humanity and religion [PDF]. Historically, it was mainly used by priests to help them remember their ceremonial rites, and the word Dongba means "wise man." However, the script has undergone something of a revival in recent years, having been promoted by people working in the arts and tourism industries. It’s also taught in some elementary schools, and it remains one of the few pictographic scripts that’s still in use today. At the same time, Brookes says he's seen little evidence of efforts "to create a circumstance where the script is actually used in a functional, everyday fashion." With the predominant Chinese script looming large throughout much of the country, Dongba's days may be numbered.

9. Tibetan

A student writes the Tibetan script
China Photos/Getty Images

Some of the world’s alphabets and languages are endangered for political reasons. Tibetan is perhaps the best-known example of that. The Chinese government has cracked down on language instruction in recent years, with the aim of promoting Mandarin, the predominant language—although some have argued this policy comes at the expense of minority languages. In Tibet, many schools now conduct the bulk of their lessons in Mandarin, and Tibetan might be taught in a separate language course. Chinese officials put a Tibetan activist on trial in January 2018 for “inciting separatism”—partly because he criticized the government’s policies on Tibetan language education. He was sentenced to five years in prison. In general, “the story behind endangered alphabets is almost never a pleasant or cheerful one, so that’s the human rights side of it,” Brookes says.

10. Mongolian

The Mongolian script

Anand.orkhon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Some have likened the appearance of the traditional Mongolian script to a kind of vertical Arabic. The script traveled to Mongolia by way of a Turkic ethnic group called the Uighurs in the 1100s. Beginning with Genghis Khan, Mongol leaders used the script to record historic events during their reign. Later, when Mongolia became a Soviet satellite state, the country started using the Cyrillic alphabet in the 1940s, and the traditional script was largely cast aside. The traditional alphabet is still used in inner Mongolia and is returning to Mongolia, and the renaissance of Mongolian calligraphy has bolstered its usage to some degree. Nonetheless, it, too, remains endangered.

25 Different Ways to Say "Fart"

This guy just floated an air biscuit, if you know what I'm saying.
This guy just floated an air biscuit, if you know what I'm saying.
Natty Blissful (farting man), Sudowoodo (speech bubble) // iStock via Getty Images Plus

Over the course of history, the human race has come up with many delightfully creative ways to describe the act of breaking wind. From regional terms to old-timey phrases, here are 25 ways to say fart that you should work into conversation whenever toots come up.

1. Air Biscuit

According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, an air biscuit is “an extremely malodorous fart or belch.” The phrase dates back to the early ‘90s and originated in the south, but clearly needs to be used everywhere. The act of farting or belching is known as floating an air biscuit, by the way.

2. Bottom Burp

Don’t call it a fart; call it a bottom burp. Green’s notes that this is “generally a children’s usage,” but it was “popularized on BBC TV’s 1980s comedy The Young Ones.”

3. Fartick

This term, from the early 1900s, means “a small act of breaking wind”—in other words, a tiny toot. You can also use the term fartkin. Scientists, by the way, have determined that the median weight of a fart is around 90 milliliters.

4. One-Cheek Squeak

According to Green’s, “an instance of breaking wind.”

5. Bafoon

A ‘40s term for “a stench, [especially] a fart,” according to Green’s. It’s also sometimes puffoon.

6., 7., and 8. Cheeser, Cut the Cheese, and Squeeze Cheese

Once a term for a person who made cheese, according to Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, cheeser has meant “a strong smelling fart” since 1811. It’s not the only cheese-related fart term, either: Perhaps you’ve asked “Who cut the cheese?” when you’ve smelled a particularly nasty odor. According to Green’s, this phrase for farting relates to ”the pronounced odor of certain cheeses,” and the Oxford English Dictionary dates oral usage back to 1959. Squeeze cheese is another delightful phrase, seemingly born of the internet, meaning “To fart, flatulate loudly.”

9. Breezer

A 1920s term for an open-topped car, and also an early ‘70s Australian term for a fart.

10. Trump

This word, meaning “to fart,” dates back to the 15th century. It’s also been used as a noun since the early 20th century. Either way, it's derived from the sound of a trumpet, which makes total sense.

11., 12., 13., and 14. Raspberry Tart, Hart and Dart, Horse and Cart, and D’Oyley Carte

Horse and Cart, Raspberry Tart, Hart and Dart, and D’Oyley Carte are all ways to say fart, many originating in England. Welcome to the wonderful world of rhyming slang!

15. and 16. Ringbark and Shoot a Bunny

Ringbark is a term used in New Zealand for breaking wind. Green’s cites the 2003 Reed’s Dictionary of New Zealand Slang, which helpfully notes that “ring is old slang for the anus.” Shoot a Bunny is another New Zealand way to say fart. As a bonus, “Empty house is better than a bad tenant” is what you say in New Zealand after you’ve farted in public. Farting in public is embarrassing, of course, but it's arguably better than the alternative: Holding in a fart could cause the gas to leak out of your mouth.

17. Foist

In early 1600s, the word foist was used to describe something that smelled less than fresh—and before that, in the late 1500s, it was a verb meaning “to break wind silently.” In other words, a more polite way to describe flatulence that’s silent but deadly.

18. Fizzle

This word, which originated in the 16th century, originally meant “to defecate.” But by the mid-17th century, fizzle (also spelled fisle) had acquired an additional meaning: to fart. Want to know how to use it in a sentence? Consider this example from 1653: “The false old trot did so fizzle and foist, that she stunk like a hundred devils.”

19. Prat Whids

Prat (derived from pratfall) is a 16th century British cant or slang word for the buttocks. Whid is a cant word meaning “to speak or tell” or “to lie.” So this phrase for breaking wind literally means “buttock speaks.”

20. Opened One’s Lunchbox

An Australian term for fart that, according to Green’s, debuted in the Barry McKenzie comic strip. You can apparently also say upon tooting that you "dropped your lunchbox."

21. Wind the Horn

This UK term dates back to around 1660.

22. Tail Scutter

An Irish slang term for a fart from the mid-1960s.

23. Rim Slide

According to Green’s, this is a prison slang term from the ‘80s for “a silent but foul-smelling fart,” helpfully noting that “the fart slides from the rim of the anus.” (Emphasis, it must be said, is Green's.)

24. Orange Banana

This isn’t technically a slang term for a fart, but it is toot-adjacent, and we couldn’t resist including it: It’s the “flaring effect produced by breaking wind next to a lit match,” and reportedly comes from college campuses in the late ‘80s.

25. Bronx Cheer

When you make a fart noise with your mouth, that’s called a Bronx Cheer—a term that dates all the way back to 1908.

40 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in April

Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
YaleShutter/iStock via Getty Images

Spring is in the air, as is the promise of several offbeat holidays—even if you don’t like pranks or chocolate bunnies. Here are 40 of them.

April 2: National Ferret Day

A ferret hanging out on a log
jhayes44/iStock via Getty Images

We'll definitely be celebrating these furry little guys.

April 2: International Children's Book Day

Celebrated since 1967, this holiday takes place on Hans Christian Andersen's birthday.

April 3: Tweed Day

Summer is coming, so dust off your favorite tweed clothing item and get in one last wear before it's crop top and linen season.

April 4: National Tell-A-Lie Day

Honesty is generally the best policy, according to one of our founding fathers. But today, you have carte blanche to fib your heart out.

April 4: International Pillow Fight Day

Have a pillow fight!

April 5: National Deep Dish Pizza Day

Deep fish pizza with candles in it
iStock.com/liveslow

A day to appreciate sky-high pies, or argue over the best pizza in all the land.

April 5: Read a Road Map Day

There was a time not so long ago when we had to consult large, folded pieces of paper to figure out directions from point A to point B. Thanks to GPS and Google Maps, this is now practically a holiday of antiquity. But you can’t use a Sharpie to draw a route on your smartphone, so score one for the road map.

April 6: Tartan Day

Show off your Scottish heritage, and grab your kilt while you're at it.

April 6: Sorry Charlie Day

This holiday was inspired by Charlie the Tuna—the cartoon mascot for StarKist and the subject of an advertising campaign that ran until the 1980s. In the spots, Charlie purports to have good taste, and wants to be recruited by the company, but is perpetually rejected via a sign on a fish hook that reads, "Sorry, Charlie." (As the narrator explains, they're interested in tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.) The ads spawned a national catchphrase, and this holiday seeks to recognize all those who have lived through rejection and still retain their spunk.

April 7: International Beaver Day

Ferrets aren't the only small mammals we love here at Mental Floss: International Beaver Day will warrant its own party, too.

April 7: National Beer Day

A group of friends celebrating with beer
iStock.com/skynesher

On March 22, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act, legalizing the sale of beer (as long as it was 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or less) after many years of Prohibition. The thirsty public had to wait two long weeks before they could legally imbibe again, and on April 7, the law finally went into effect. Beer drinkers around the country rejoiced, and celebrated with a nice cold one, presumably.

April 10: National Siblings Day

Celebrate the brothers and sisters who drive you mad and keep you sane—often all at the same time.

April 11: Barbershop Quartet Day

Consider a musical ode to these fearsome foursomes on their special day of the year.

April 11: International “Louie Louie” Day

"Louie Louie" is, by some accounts, the most recorded rock song in history. (The most famous version was recorded by The Kingsmen in 1963.) This year, celebrate this offbeat holiday by finally figuring out the lyrics.

April 12: National Licorice Day

A pile of black and red licorice
iStock.com/icelandr

This offbeat holiday—designed to celebrate black licorice specifically—will surely be a contentious commemoration. For those of you who cringed, please enjoy your Twizzlers.

April 12: Drop Everything and Read Day

Also known as D.E.A.R. Day, this holiday encourages you to abandon all prior commitments for the comfort of a good book. It also coincides with the birthday of children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who is a spokesperson for the event. Though marketed toward children, the celebration is open to everyone.

April 12: Walk On Your Wild Side Day

Whatever “wild” means to you, today's the day to do it.

April 13: National Scrabble Day

A Scrabble game board
AnthonyRosenberg/iStock via Getty Images

Created by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, Scrabble did not become a national phenomenon until the 1950s. It has since inspired less mobility-impaired games like Bananagrams and Words With Friends. But to honor the holiday, use a classic board and show off your robust vocabulary.

April 13: Dyngus Day

According to Buffalo’s official holiday website, “Historically a Polish-American tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the often restrictive observance of Lent and the joy of Easter.” Some celebratory activities include men chasing around women to drench them with water, and hitting them with pussy willow branches. So basically, Dyngus Day is spring break.

April 14: National Reach as High as You Can Day

National Reach as High as You Can Day is really about grounding yourself in reality. Don’t reach for the stars if you can’t actually touch them—know your limitations. Set attainable goals, and take pleasure in being just good enough.

April 15: National That Sucks Day

It's Tax Day and the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so yeah, kind of sucky.

April 16: National Stress Awareness Day

Stressed out young woman pulling her hair out in front of a yellow background
iStock.com/SIphotography

Founded on the very cute notion that you are not aware of your stress.

April 16: National High Five Day

Make 'em count today, and don't forget to keep an eye on the elbow.

April 17: National Haiku Poetry Day

Celebrate with your
Own haiku that is likely
Much better than mine.

April 19: National Hanging Out Day

Sadly, this is not a day to kick back and relax with some friends. Rather, it's a holiday encouraging people to hang out their laundry—and cut down on energy consumption by doing so.

April 20: Lima Bean Respect Day

Much like Rodney Dangerfield, the lima bean doesn’t get any respect. Well not today! Did you know lima beans are an excellent source of fiber? They also help balance your blood sugar and lower cholesterol. So give this bean a break and try extolling its more admirable qualities for the day.

April 21: National Library Workers Day

A day to honor the hardworking shushers and Dewey Decimal devotees who help us all on our reading journeys.

April 21: National Bulldogs Are Beautiful Day

A pair of bulldogs pose for a portrait
iStock.com/Luka Lajst

If you didn't already know this, you can see yourself out.

April 22: National Jelly Bean Day

When you grab a handful to celebrate this year, just make sure you don't get "BeanBoozled."

April 23: Talk Like Shakespeare Day

We have of late, but wherefore we know not, lost all our mirth. What a perfect day to get it back! In honor of the Bard’s birthday, drop some thous and thees, master iambic pentameter, and cast people away by exclaiming “get thee to a nunnery!” Talk Like Shakespeare Day is the one time of year you can express yourself in rhyming couplets; wethinks thou oughtest useth the opportunity.

April 23: World Book Night

On Shakespeare's birthday passionate volunteers hand out books in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Germany.

April 24: National Hairball Awareness Day

Don't become a statistic.

April 25: World Penguin Day

Antarctica gentoo penguins fighting
iStock.com/Grafissimo

Seriously, all the animal holidays are fine with us.

April 25: International DNA Day

Unlike many holidays in the Offbeat Family, DNA Day has formal U.S. Congressional recognition. On this day in 1953, scientists first published papers in Nature on the structural makeup of DNA [PDF]. In 2003, the Human Genome Project was declared to be nearly complete; the National Human Genome Research Institute has since developed activities and celebrations to honor the holiday.

April 25: National Go Birding Day

Build bird feeders, bring your binoculars for a walk in the woods, or, if you live in the city, take a little extra time to notice all the pigeons.

April 26: Hug An Australian Day

It does not say they have to be human. Also: Learn some Australian slang while you’re at it.

April 26: National Pretzel Day

The beer is optional.

April 27: Morse Code Day

Wartime Morse Code Communications
iStock.com/cjp

Break out your best dots and dashes, it’s the birthday of Samuel Morse—co-inventor of the eponymous Morse Code. These days any Joe Schmoe can try his hand at transmitting lights, clicks, and tones to send a secret message. But this system of communication used to be a highly specialized field that required a license and a proclivity for spying on communists.

April 30: National Honesty Day

Remember when you celebrated National Tell-A-Lie Day a few weeks ago? Today, do the opposite.

April 30: International Jazz Day

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for this holiday. Schools, communities, and even government organizations around the world will host programs to highlight the diplomatic role of jazz in bringing people together.

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