Susanllewellyn's Blog

July 29, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (5)

Ok, back to the first group of signs:

htp di nsw


or hetep di nesu, to make it slighty more pronounceable.

We’re going to dismantle this component even further, into the very first word – written word, that is.  Because, although in spoken Egyptian, the word hetep is the first word of the sentence, when it came to committing speech to writing, they put the nesu first.  

Yes, I know.  You’ve just gasped in disgust, chucked your pen across the desk and hit the whiteboard.  What were they thinking?

 Well, they were thinking, we’ve just invented something called writing, and it’s powerful stuff.  Your words don’t evaporate into thin air any more.  This newfangled writing contraption makes them stick around and come back to haunt you.  It transports your words across space and time.  It makes things happen, even though you’re not there to tell them to.  It must be magic.    

 If even tiny little words are so important once they’re written down, went their logic, think how powerful big, impressive words are.  Think how powerful a word like King must be.  It’s all the power of the King himself, in a word.  We’d better give it precedence and write it down first.  We probably don’t want to annoy it – the gods know what it might do.

 Egyptologists call the principle of putting important words like King, god, etc, first in the written sentence “honorific transposition”.  In the spoken language, they said the words in their natural order.

 You’ve guessed by now that nesu means King.  Technically, it means King of Upper Egypt, but it was also used simply to mean King.

In this version of the offering formula, it is spelled:


but you can also find it written as:


nsw versions 3 and 4nsw versions 1 and 2

nsw version 5In the case of the offering formula, though, both they and you want to keep it short and simple, so let’s stick to the two signs we have.


(The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that there is one of these just behind my head in my profile picture.)

All hieroglyphs are pictograms – that is, they are all pictures of something, even though they may not be immediately recognisable.  However, I’m sure you recognised instantly that the first symbol is a simplified rendering of a plant, probably some form of sedge.  Here is a picture of a sedge plant: 

a sedge plant

You can see the likeness, can’t you?  On the other hand, you can also see why they didn’t go in for photo realism in the hieroglyphic department. When you draw your first hieroglyph in your first offering formula, it will be this one, and I suggest you start at the top and, in a single, deliberate stroke, draw a walking stick, then add two pairs of little curved leaves onto the bottom of the stem.

Now for the second sign:

It’s a loaf of bread.  Well, obviously.  But if you look closely at this scene of ancient Egyptian bread making, you’ll see they put the dough to rise in pottery bread moulds, and in the bottom left hand corner, there it is, rising above the mould in a similar shape.

bread-making scene

It’s an easy symbol to draw, anyway – a straight line for the bottom and a curved line on top.  A nice, gentle wind-down after the rigours of the lesson.


  1. How do I read your Office Hieroglyphs blog posts in sequence, from the very first one? Thank you!

    Comment by Teddy Primack — December 30, 2019 @ 6:34 pm | Reply

    • Unfortunately, you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “next page” until you get to Post 1 of “Office Hieroglyphs”. It annoys me too!

      Comment by Valerie Billingham — January 11, 2020 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

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