Category Archives: Humour

Fun with ſ

Who says Wikipedia can’t be fun? Linguists can be rather nerdy, following some excerpts from the Talk page for the long s article:

Where the bee ſucks, there ſuck I;
In a cowſlip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After ſummer merrily.
–William Shakeſpeare

Long s had a dethender to begin with, and during the medieval era thcribeth gradually thortened the dethender part until long s had no dethender to thpeak of. Descenderless long esess are an example of atrophied letter forms. Oh gee, now I’ve completely broken the pattern.

May the ſ character bloſsom like the roſe

And, may the phyſical ſpacing of it one day improve.

Ðe letter ſ is ſweet! We ſhould use it more. Alſo, braſsſmith is correct. I þink it alſo makes the word “ſcrewed” look muć better. Wiþ a compoſe key on Linux, you can uſe Compoſ, f, s to get it.

Ðiſ iſ getting ſilly.
Gettiŋ ſilly, you ſay? I ſay we revive ſome of ðeſe ‘antique’ letters, and (of courſe) briŋ ðe “eszett (“ß”)” in from German. To me it’s quite a preßiŋ ißue. I þink we need more letters!

But, more serious:

It is important to note that many languages, eſpecially Germanic ones, make words by compounding ſhorter words and word fragments. When word a made is made from a part ending in s followed by another part, the compound word ſhould ſtill be written with a final s even though it is now inſıde a word. The correct uſe of long verſus ſhort s can make the ſtructure clearer, and ſometimes remove ambiguity.

Ash Wednesday

My apartment building has the nice installation of a giveaway place near the entrance. I picked up some remarkably interesting “abandoned” books from there, in the past.

Today I reaped “Sterben und Tod im Mittelalter von Norbert Ohler” (Dying and Death in the mediaeval ages). A rather fitting find for the occasion of the day, and how much I am looking forward to browse through it for a little read before slumber time.. Fastnacht is over.

Seriously, it is a well written, comprehensive book on all aspects of the topic, including lots of manuscript text references and imagery.

The Voynich Challenge

A Strange Proposal

dungeon map

Photo by Dru!

I wrote the following text a while ago with the idea in mind to put it up as a challenge on a place like Quora but then it got too lengthy and also too implicative. Reading it now it sounds more like the intro to a text based adventure game.



Let’s suppose you receive a strange proposal. Your task is to create a large body of text, split into several parts varying in length from single sentences to several pages, around 200.000 characters in all. The actual content is not important but it should appear meaningful. The text must appear to be written in an ancient, yet unknown language. This is crucial, it needs to be absolutely indiscernible from a real, existing ancient language, even to experts on the field and should hold up under scrutiny for at least a few decades. The reward is tempting so you don’t ask questions and agree to the assignment. Your timeframe is about 12 months.
You receive a batch of papers containing texts as a source of inspiration and a few hints like a list of keywords to use in different contexts, that it would do no harm if fragments of some words and sentences would appear here & there and the suggestion to encrypt parts of it to your liking. You could sometimes make it look lexical or otherwise copy the structure of some of the texts.
Which prove as a random collection of all sorts of different things, single words, names, lists of all sorts, quotes, poems, hymns, meditations, recipes, tractates, short essays, you name it. Mostly they are in latin, some in english. Some are in languages you only know of like ancient greek and some in what you can only guess to be aztec or ancient hebrew. A few remain undiscernible but this does not matter because they are nicely transcribed into latin characters, sometime with markings for extra characters of the originating language which do not have a latin equivalent. It comes in handy that you are asked to deliver your text in latin characters.
Of course there are some limitations. Your use of tools is restricted to pen & paper, dice, slide-rule & abacus (or digital simulations of such). Now here’s the real challenge: You can only use scientific knowledge that has been around until 1910 (it’s best you imagine living at that time). For example, Markov published in 1906 but it is unclear if you can use Markov chains because you do not have a computer. At the very most you have access to a Hollerith machine (or rather the virtual pendant).
How would you go about it?

I would like a really good Voynich game, I guess I’m not alone. So if you’re a talented MUD developer with lots of time on your hands, let us know!