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12 fascinating facts about dots

What’s round, was one of Man’s first ever doodles and is an old word for pimple? No guesses? It’s the dot.

We wear it, listen to it, read it and gaze on it. We send it through the air and under the waves. Each episode in the series Join the Dots circles a different aspect of this simple mark.

Have a gander at these fun facts we've learnt about the shape that we are, quite simply, dotty about.

1. Dot was the word for spot

The first recorded use of the word dot was in a collection of Anglo-Saxon medical cures from the year 1000. Amongst the remedies for gout, piles, sudden death of swine and scabbiness of sheep is a cure for boils or pustules. The treatment involves opening up the head or ‘dot’ of the boil and adding an egg and salt poultice. Yuck! Thankfully, we now have antiseptic.

2. The dot was the first punctuation mark, created in the 3rd Century BC

Before the dot was introduced, wordsusedtorunintoeachother. Thankfully a man called Aristophanes, the 5th librarian at Alexandria, took it upon himself to invent a way for an exhausted and confused reader to know when to take a breath. He inserted dots into the text, with the height at which a dot appeared governing how long a pause the reader should take. Phew!

3. ‘Dot’ was crowned America’s Most Useful Word of the Year 1996

Although it used to be a word of low frequency – rarely used – all that changed with the introduction of email and websites. By the end of this year it’s predicted that 269 billion emails will be sent and received each day from six billion email accounts. That’s a lot of dot.coms.

Before the dot was introduced, wordsusedtorunintoeachother.

4. The polka dot is named after the polka dance

Simply because the pattern became fashionable at the same time as the dance craze of the 1850s. Famous fans of the dotty pattern include Marilyn Monroe who, in 1951, was famously photographed wearing a polka dot bikini and Bob Dylan, who wore a green polka dot shirt on the cover of his single Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.

Dot used to be a word rarely used, but all that changed with the introduction of emails and websites.

5. The King of the Mountain wears a polka dot jersey

The polka dot jersey - white with red polka dots - is the special cycling top presented to the ‘King of the Mountains’ in the Tour de France.

6. Dots are the oldest cave art in Europe

Archaeologists discovered red dots painted on the wall of a cave in Spain, which are at least 40,000 years old – making them the oldest cave art in Europe. These dots have forced us to challenge our preconceptions of Neanderthals, the way we view their skills and thinking abilities. Seems interior decorating started earlier than we thought.

7. Dots could have saved the Titanic

One of the first uses of the Morse code signal ‘SOS’ was sent from the Titanic as its engine room filled with water. However, the signal operators on the doomed ship missed a message, also in dots and dashes, from another ship which warned of ice. Had they been paying attention and sent it up to the bridge they might have avoided the iceberg. But then without Morse, the number who drowned might have been much higher.

8. Australian aboriginals didn’t start dot painting until the 1970s

The oldest continuous culture is that of the Aboriginal Australians. But although they historically used dots in ceremonial sand paintings and on their bodies, they didn’t put those dots to canvas until the early 1970s, encouraged by a white art school teacher named Geoffrey Bardon. These paintings spawned what has been called the last great artistic movement of the twentieth century.

9. A record-breaking dot-to-dot had 6,239 dots

The world record ‘connect the dots’ puzzle was created by Melbourne-based artist and designer Thomas Pavitte. It was a representation of the Mona Lisa comprising 6,239 dots. Pavitte spent a gruelling 9.5 hours of his life solving the puzzle. That’s a long day in the office.

Aboriginal Australians use dots on their bodies and in ceremonial sand paintings.
A tablet that displays braille dots rather than text is under development.

10. Pointillism is painting with dots

Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique, branching from Impressionism, in 1886. The technique involved applying small, distinct dots of colour in patterns to form an image. Step back and… voila! Seurat’s ‘The Bridge at Courbevoie’ is considered to be the most important example of the technique. The artist famously said, “some say they see poetry in my paintings, I see only science.”

11. Braille is a ‘language’ made entirely of dots

Braille – named after its creator, Louis Braille – uses combinations of raised dots to spell out letters and punctuation. Braille takes up more space than the traditional alphabet, so braille books are substantially larger than their print counterparts. ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is 10 volumes in braille and the ‘New American Bible’ needs a bookshelf of its own, coming in at 45 volumes. Luckily a tablet that displays braille dots rather than text is on its way.

12. ‘Pale blue dot’ is a photo of earth taken from 3.7 billion miles away

The photo was taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe - a record distance from earth. After completing its primary mission, and about to leave the Solar System, Voyager 1 was commanded by NASA to take one last snap of Planet Earth. In the photograph, the World equates to less than a pixel - a tiny dot in a vast expanse of space.

Do you ever sit back and think: we live on a big dot in Space?