• Imagining History

Hieroglyphs VS Hieroglyphics - A Guide for Kids

Updated: Mar 2

If you’ve read through some of our articles on Hieroglyphs thinking “wait, I thought it was ‘hieroglyphics’ not ‘hieroglyphs’, have I got it wrong?”. Don’t panic – you’re not alone.


So is it Hieroglyphs or Hieroglyphics?


To answer this question, we have to find out where the name came from in the first place.



Why are they called Hieroglyphs?


The word “hieroglyph” comes from the Greek word ἱερογλυφικός (pronounced hieroglifikos). This is a combination of the Greek words “hiero” meaning holy or sacred and “glypho” meaning writings or carvings. So “hieroglyph” literally means “sacred writings”.


But wait. Why is “hieroglyph” an Ancient Greek word? This is Ancient Egyptian writing we’re talking about right? Not Ancient Greek!


You’re right, it is confusing. But “hieroglyph” actually refers to any form of picture writing. It just so happens that the most well known form of hieroglyph writing belongs to the Ancient Egyptians. Ancient Anatolian, Mayan, Aztec and even Chinese writings also appeared in picture or “hieroglyph” form.


And when it comes down to it – the Ancient Greeks just loved naming things! Particularly things in Ancient Egypt. In fact, most of the names that we use for the Ancient Egyptian gods today actually came from the Ancient Greeks, not the Egyptians! Yep. Mind blown.

Anyway - lets get back to the point.



Hieroglyphs VS Hieroglyphics


So which is it then? Hieroglyphs or Hieroglyphics?


The simple answer is that both terms are correct.


The complicated answer is that there is no simple answer! Some sources refer to each individual symbol as being a “hieroglyph” and the entire writing form as “hieroglyphics”.


Others claim that the term “hieroglyphics”, though used more regularly, is actually incorrect. And that “hieroglyph” is the correct term that historians use.


So in conclusion – there’s really no right or wrong answer here. Use whichever one you want to use. We went with hieroglyphs - the choice is yours.


But...


But if some know-it-all turns up and decides to question you on which word you decide to use – you could explain this:


"The term “hieroglyphics” sounds closer to the original Greek word, pronounced hieroglifikos.


But, if you break the Greek word down into it’s two base parts - “hiero” and “glypho” – the word “hieroglyph” sounds closer.


So I think either word is good to use.


Plus, it's an ancient written language and the Egyptians themselves actually called it something completely different.


So stop questioning my wisdom."



Are you a teacher? Yes? Then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'Ancient Egypt: A Time Travel Tour' Interactive workshop to your school.


Our Award-Winning sessions combine role-play, storytelling, demonstrations and drama and performance to bring history to life for your students.


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