What’s in a word?

Now, really, what is in a word? For me, this a a recurrent question. Much of our lives revolves around words, and they are our primary means of communication (even though it is said that one image can say more than a thousand words). As with anything mundane (like the air we breathe), we usually take them for granted. If you are not a linguist, words are simlpy… well, words. Unless, perhaps, you enjoy playing with them. Or unless you come across words that defy being taken for granted.

One particularly defying jumble of words that I came across when reading a recent article is the so-called Voynich manuscript, a roughly 500 year old book that has puzzled (and frustrated) numerous people who tried to decipher it.

It would be a bit too much to say that it is an interesting read. A random pick from Takeshi Takahashi‘s transcription reads like this:

    psheoky odaiir qoyofseod chypchey ypchedy ainchofochcphdy
    dchey *aiin adeeodyykecthhy chedy ytedy dychecthedy lr
    oaiin shcthy eteeda oloyykeedy olchedy galy sheey saiin s
    qokedy cheos ytedy qokedyytedy chekedydaiin odam s aldy
    haiin shedy eedy eedy schydaiin cthedyqokeedy qokedy cthhy
    rchedy qokedy
    pcho qokedy dar sheo ypchseds saiinshapchedyfeey dalchedy sas
    daiin shedy qokeedy qoteedar sokolotedy qokchdy qokedy
    tcheo shy geedy okedy chckhy sdydyykeechy okeedy cheky
    shese aiin sheos cheody otal

It’s the stuff mysteries are made of, but I’m not a mystic. On the other hand, it’s fun to play with. And when you want to start a new blog and notice that all the cool blog names have already been taken by others, well, there are lots of “fresh” new words in the Voynich manuscript…

Talking about playing – seeing Shawn’s blog post on word clouds just after I reading the article about the Voynich manuscript, of course I had to try creating word clouds (using Wordle) from that old text.



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