English from right to left

People always call me strange when they see me writing English in the opposite direction, using mirrored letters. This practice, however, has been known since the 15th century – or even before. Who else could give birth to this incredible idea, if not the famous Italian polymath, Leondardo Da Vinci. He was ambidextrous, which means that he was able to use both of his hands equally in order to write, paint, play an instrument etc. Da Vinci’s mirror writing was first discovered when his personal records were found: all of his texts, except the ones he intended to be read by others, were written using a unique shorthand. We could confidently state that his graphemes were visibly easier to write than the ones we use today, provided that we can ignore their mirrored direction.

The real purpose of Leonardo Da Vinci’s mirror writing remains unknown, although several theories have been put forward throughout the centuries. Some believe that, since many of his ideas disagreed with the teachings of the powerful Roman Catholic Church, he wanted to hide them from the public in order to save his head. Others say that he may have been concerned that his contemporaries (by this I refer to other well-known polymaths whom he saw as his ‘rivals’) would steal his ideas, and therefore made it harder for them to access the information from his private notes.

But there is a third possible reason, the reason which encouraged me to learn Da Vinci’s mirrored shorthand and make it a part of my everyday life. Left-handed people, including myself, often find it difficult to write by hand, regardless of whether we use a pen or a pencil. This is because the ink or graphite we put down on the paper smears when our hand moves across it. Furthermore, pushing our hands (and the equipment) forward on the paper does not normally produce a fluent – or at least perfectly legible – handwriting. The first time I experienced the opposite was when I began to copy longer texts in Modern Hebrew, starting from the right side of the paper and moving towards the left. At the end, my writing was not at all smudged, my hand was clean and I wasn’t tired of forcefully “attacking” the paper for a long period. The decision was made and I soon learnt to take my notes using the technique of mirror writing.

Research has proven that left-handed people have a better ability at mirroring letters, due to the way in which their brain functions. For me, writing from right to left at a quick pace does not cause any problems, but I often have to think twice about the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ before putting them on paper. However, this may just be the influence of over ten years of writing in the habitual direction. To show you how I use the technique, I’ve copied a section of the related Wikipedia article, in my own version of mirror writing.


“Bálint-style” mirror writing…


…and the same text, as it would appear in a mirror


10 thoughts on “English from right to left

  1. I find this – amazing. My brother is left handed, and he said he would definitely be giving this a try because he too hates the smudging. I’m going to be showing this to all of my left handed friends as well as trying it a little myself (maybe ambidexterity is in my future). Thank You, Sir!

    • Thank you, it is always incredibly good to receive some positive feedback! As soon as you get comfortable with the letters, you can expect to have a lot of fun writing! There’s a good generator on the internet that turns you text into Da Vinci’s mirror writing. However, it’s entirely up to you how you form the letters. For example, I really didn’t like the letter ‘h’ (which looked like ‘H’) so I decided to write it as ‘ᅱ’. Or you can see in my sample that my ‘s’ looks a bit like this: ‘ᶗ’. The possibilities are endless. It’s good that you are enthusiastic about ambidexterity, but don’t forget that you can mirror write with your right hand too! You’re welcome, and it should indeed be me who says thank you, for passing by and leaving a comment.

  2. I’m left handed too and I actually wrote backwards when I first learned how to write. My teachers made me stop when I was about 5 years old. Anyways, interesting article, as always. I am envious of people who use languages that go from right to left!

    • Interesting! Did you use the exact mirror image of the letters or a slightly modified script, like mine? One of my ambidextrous readers just informed me that he is able to write not just with both hands, but in both directions too! After reading his comment I realised that writing Hebrew from left to right using mirrored letters is not a big deal for me as I am used to the left-to-right direction – and the same way, he must find it natural to write English from right to left. Do you think native speakers of Arabic, Hebrew etc. ever experience difficulties similar to what you have mentioned?

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  5. Trying to find a program that would allow to type regular letters both ways: left to right and right to left, it would seem to be more efficient to read any language in a zig-zag pattern, instead of skipping from the beginning of the line to the end, like this: begin from right:

    dna thgir ot tfel :syaw htob srettel raluger epyt ot wolla dluow taht margorp a dnif ot gniyrT
    right to left, it would seem to be more efficient to read any language in a zig-zag pattern,
    .tfel eht no dne :siht ekil ,dne eht ot enil eht fo gninnigeb iht morf gnippiks fo daetsni

  6. Awesome! I do this as well! I’m right-hand dominant, but taught myself to be ambidextrous when I was younger and discovered that it was more efficient to write right-to-left with the left hand, which is how I came to “mirror writing”. Whenever I use my left hand to write, I’ll usually do this.

    This is certainly an old practice. Ancient Greek writing had no fixed standard on directionality; there is the practice know as boustrophedon (literally, “as the ox plows”) describing the practice of alternating direction on each line.

  7. Thanks for this post Balint. Felt at least I ain’t alone in mirror writing. I do enjoy it.

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