Table of Contents
First published in the United States 2009 by DIAL BOOKS
A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Published by The Penguin Group
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Published in Australia 2008 by Viking as
The Word Spy
Text copyright © 2008 by Ursula Dubosarsky Illustrations copyright © 2008 by Tohby Riddle All rights reserved
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any
responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Text set in Adobe Caslon • S.A.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dubosarsky, Ursula, date.
The word snoop / Ursula Dubosarsky ; illustrated by Tohby Riddle.
Previously published under title: The word spy, 2008.
Summary: A tour of the English language from the beginning of the
alphabet in 4000 BC to modern text messaging and emoticons.
eISBN : 978-1-101-16285-9
1. English language—History—Juvenile literature. I. Riddle, Tohby,
ill. II. Duborsarsky, Ursula, date, Word spy. III. Title.
For everyone at
Ferncourt Public School,
And to my dear friends and
colleagues at the New South Wales
School Magazine, where the Word Snoop
was born . . .
What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words.
BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
You may not know me, but I know you. I am
the WORD SNOOP!
The Word Snoop? Allow me to explain . . . You
see, I love words. Ever since I can remember, I’ve
been listening to, speaking, reading, writing, and
snooping on words. I follow words every-
where. I creep down dark hallways, roam wide
highways, and sneak along country lanes.
I listen to conversations, read over people’s
shoulders, flip through books, click on
websites, and tap out text messages . . .
But the time has come at last for me to emerge
from undercover and share with you some of the
many, many things I have learned.
Why don’t you come and be a Word Snoop with
me? All you have to do is open this book, take
a deep breath, and dive inside. The wonderful
world of words awaits!
But shhh! Someone’s coming! I cannot stay.
See you very soon, I hope. Don’t delay, my
snoops, I’m expecting you . . .
Bye-bye! Must fly!
The Word Snoop
Oops, I almost forgot! There’s a secret
message for you hidden in the pages of this
book. You will find a part of the message at the
end of each chapter, and each part is written in
its own special code.
See if you can decipher them all.
Farewell, my snoops . . . and good luck!
I’m writing to you from a secret location. Don’t
tell anyone where I am, okay? Oh, that’s right,
you don’t actually know where I am
Anyway, one thing you do know is your ABCs.
That’s right, the alphabet. Now, maybe the
alphabet sounds like a pretty ordinary thing to
you, but actually it’s not. The only way you are
able to read this book, or have it read to you, is
because of the invention thousands of years ago
of that mysterious thing we call
It’s funny, when something is as familiar as
the alphabet you would think it had been there
since the beginning of time. But it hasn’t . . .
Read on, my friends!
And remember, keep snooping.
Your abecedarian friend,
The Word Snoop
How it all began . . .
The First Alphabet
magine yourself back when you were learning the alphabet for the very first time. Twenty-six different letters—you probably thought you’d never be able to remember them all. But have you ever wondered where those strange shapes came from in the first place?
The very earliest writing in the world started in the area now known as Iraq in about 4000 BC. It’s called cuneiform, which means “wedge-shaped.” You know when you play with putty or clay, and you dig your fingernails into it to make shapes? Cuneiform was a bit like that—it was a way of writing by pressing wedges into soft clay to make signs for words and sounds. It looked like this: