The Voynich Manuscript/Jargon

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Your friendly online dictionary for impenetrable Voynich terminology!

Basic Voynich Jargon[edit]

Dain = Colloquial Scots, particularly North East Scotland meaning "doing" . A typical example may be "Fit i Ye Dain?'" = "What are you Doing?" Can also be "Dein"

dain/daiin/daiiin = a weird-looking "word" that recurs throughout the VMS, often in groups (like dain daiin), which has led to numerous bizarre theories.

EVA = a particular stroke-based transcription format for the VMS, designed to be both linguistically readable and post-processible into whatever glyph format you like. For more on this (and to download the EVA Hand 1 font), go to: http://www.voynich.nu/extra/eva.html

Folio = a pair of pages with a number (the foliation) on the front (typically in the top right). The front page of the pair is denoted "-r" (for recto), and the back (reverse) page of the pair is denoted "-v" (for verso). So, f80r means folio #80, front page.

Gallows / Gallows Characters = the tall squiggly characters seen freqently in the VMS. Less common are Long gallows or Split gallows, which are gallows characters which (typically) have the two 'legs' of the gallows separated and some other text placed beneath.

Interlinear = a merged set of transcriptions of the VMS, where various authors' transcriptions of the same line of VMS text are interleaved (ie, placed one after the other). You can download the latest ("version 1.6e6") Landini/Reeds/Takahashi/etc interlinear file from http://www.dcc.unicamp.br/~stolfi/voynich/98-12-28-interln16e6/

Nymph = one of the small naked women adorning the pages of the balneological and astrological sections.

Picnic Table = an inverted V shape with a flat line across the top (not a gallows character). In EVA this is character <x>.

Quire = a set of bifolios folded around a central "gutter" into a small chapter-like entity: typically 16 pages long. If numbered (as they are in the VMS, usually on the bottom right of the back of each quire), the numbering is referred to as its quiration.

Voynich Section Jargon[edit]

Herbal pages = pages with a single type of plant on

Pharma pages = pages with multiple plants and apothecary jars (maiolica)

Astrological pages = the circular volvelles with nymphs (f70v2..f73v)

Astronomical pages = the other circular diagrams (f67r1..f70r2, etc)

9-rosette page = the foldout map page

Recipe / Ephemeris pages = the starred paragraphs at the back of the VMS

Balneological pages = nymphs, baths, plumbing (f75r...f84v)

Key-like sequences = pages with 1+ sets of single glyphs in a row/column/circle

Front page = f1r

Magic circle page = f57v

Fertilisation / Seed page = f86v

The michiton oladabas page = the last page, named after one particularly influential reading of its non-Voynichese letters.

Linguistics/Statistics Voynich Jargon[edit]

Core-mantle-crust theory = three separate categories to group letters into: part of a VMS grammar proposed by Jorge Stolfi, explained in depth at http://www.dcc.unicamp.br/~stolfi/voynich/00-06-07-word-grammar/

Entropy = an overall measure of how unpredictable a sequence of numbers is. However, if you change how you predict what the next number is (ie, change the context or model), and you'll get a different entropy value. If you change how you transcribe the text, you'll get a different entropy value too.

Glyph = a single connected entity on a page. But is the ligatured "4o" you often see one glyph or two? Opinions differ...

Grammar = how text 'works'. For the VMS, written in a language and alphabet we (apparently) don't know, working this out has proven hard. A good summary is here: http://www.voynich.nu/a_para.html

(The) Kober/Ventris Approach = the way that Linear B was famously decoded by Michael Ventris, who built his ideas around the patterns noticed by Alice Kober (typically a common triplet at the start of some groups of five symbols, which she suspected formed some kind of root). If the VMS is actually a language, then Kober/Ventris would be relevant, as they decoded Linear B without the help of bilingual texts (like the Rosetta stone, etc). For more info, go to http://www.bib-arch.org/bswb_AO/bswbao0601review.html

Stroke = a single pen-stroke within a glyph.

Transcription = how you choose to convert a text into (ASCII) characters. There are two major types - stroke-based (such as EVA) and glyph-based (pretty much every other one). As opinions differ about what is and isn't a glyph, EVA was introduced so that a single transcription could be post-processed to fit your glyph model.

Cryptography / Shorthand Voynich Jargon[edit]

Cipherbet = a contraction of "cipher alphabet" coined by Nick Pelling. Admittedly a horrible word, but if you take a cryptographic view of the VMS, you'll probably end up using this (perhaps unwillingly).

Cleartext = the original text before encoding. Same as plaintext.

Ciphertext = plaintext that has been enciphered/encoded (perhaps encoded text should be called Codetext, but that seems somehow ugly and unusable, I don't know why).

Code / Cipher = a system to fiddle around with text. Technically, codes replace words with a number reference (a code index) and ciphers replace letters with other letters: though nomenclature (whereby particular key words were replaced by special symbols) forms a kind of bridge between the two types of systems.

Cryptanalysis = the art/science of breaking codes/ciphers.

Cryptography = the art/science of making codes/ciphers.

Cryptology = the overall science of code-making and code-breaking

Monoalphabetic = a cipher system that only ever has a single (output) replacement character for a single (input) plaintext character. It's long been agreed that, if the VMs is encoded, it's using a system that's more complex than just a monoalphabetic cipher. cf polyalphabetic.

Notarikon = a system of Qabbalistic word manipulation whereby phrases are transformed into their acronyms (and words expanded back into phrases as if they were acronyms), typically to reveal deeper truths in the Torah. Often described as a kind of possible shorthand / code mechanism, but rarely actually used.

Pair cipher = a cipher which replaces one or more plaintext letters with a pair (or group) of letters from the cipherbet. AKA a verbose cipher.

Plaintext = raw text that hasn't been fiddled around with at all.

Polyalphabetic = a cipher system that has multiple monoalphabetic (qv) ciphers, which it selects between according to context. A "straight polyalpha" will change context every letter, and loop around after (say) every 26 letters: when breaking polyalphas, you often try to discern this "heartbeat". Unless the text has an internal "rhythm" that matches the internal rhythm of the context change, this typically has the effect of emitting all letters at roughly the same rate - which we don't observe in the VMS. So, if it isn't a monoalpha, & it isn't a straight polyalpha... what is it?

Steganography = a system to hide text in plain sight. Rather than relying on mathematics, this relies on psychology and misdirection to distract the eye from seeing the text. Hiding text in JPEGs or WAVs is the modern form of steganography (various intelligence agencies claimed that Al-Qaeda was doing this, but AFAIK have failed to find even one) - but people have taken delight in hiding secret messages in pictures since time immemorial.

Stenography = a modern name for shorthand. Often confused with steganography (qv), even by people who should know better. :-)

Tachygraphy = a shorthand system based around writing a limited number of symbols at speed, typically by using a specially designed "single-stroke" alphabet to take notes onto a wax tablet with a stylus.

Verbose cipher = a cipher which replaces one or more plaintext letters with a pair (or group) of letters from the cipherbet: such systems date back to at least 1440. AKA pair cipher.

Miscellaneous Voynich Jargon[edit]

Albarelli = maiolica containers (like small barrels) for potions and lotions. These are relevant to the "barrels" with nymphs in (which Edith Sherwood talks about) in the low-numbered astrological volvelle pages, as these could well be albarelli: the complexity of the glazing designs grew steadily throughout the 15th Century, so moved from austere Islamic geometric shapes (circa 1440-1450) through to complex historical scenes (circa 1510). Similarly, the number of colours that could be employed sensibly increased over the same period - these would date the VMS' albarelli to (say) 1460-1470 (few colours, geometric designs).

Antidotary = manuscript or book from the 15th/16th Century describing recipes, mixtures, plants, jars, etc.

Apothecary = medieval / early modern pharmacist or chemist. The "apothecary oncia" symbol (a 'cursive z' with a bar above it), denoting an ounce or fluid ounce, was a frequent feature of early modern recipes, and is often transcribed as "3". This means a frequent pattern there is "3 iii" (which means "oncia tria", 3 ounces) - so some suspect that the VMS' "dain/daiin/daiiin" could be a steganographic version of "3 i / 3 ii / 3 iii". However, YMMV. :-)

Balneological = a hand-rolled fancy Cuban-cigar way of saying "to do with [medicinal] baths and spas".

(The) Castle Page = part of the foldout page on f85v2. This foldout page is known as "the 9-rosette page", as it is made up of 9 strange circular shapes arranged in a 'tic-tac-toe' pattern, and connected by what look like causeways. Iconographically, the rosette with the castle resembles the circular maps of Milan which appeared in the 15th Century, the most famous of which appeared in Jacopo del Massajo's 1428 edition of Ptolemy's Geographia. Make of that what you will! :-)

Circinus = medieval device used to draw circles.

CopyFlo = a kind of monochrome photocopy printout from microfilm produced by the Beinecke Library which you can buy. It's very nice to own one, but it's just a shame that it's not somewhat better quality.

Foldout = a page larger than the size of most VMS pages that you can "fold out" to see in full. Examples: the famous "9-rosette" map page, the pharma pages, the astronomical pages.

FSG = First Study Group, a early (and significant) group of cryptographers and historians who tried to crack the VMS, 1944-1946. Similarly, there was an SSG in the 1960s. There's a good page listing numerous people involved with the VMS over the years here --> http://www.voynich.nu/solvers.html

Grove Numbers = a way of numbering the nymphs/stars/labels on the circular astrological diagrams: for a particular ring, count clockwise from 9 o'clock (normally the leftmost nymph) up from #1. There are three (partial) justifications for this: (1) this is the location of the ascendant (the horizon) in a circular astrological natal chart; (2) this is roughly where you find stylised markers (probably indicating "start-of-line") in the circular rings of text; (3) if you count from the inside ring first, the nymph associated with the 7th degree of Leo is wearing a crown - the star associated with Leo 7 is Regulus, "the little king". If you're interested, you might like to look at Astromagia. However, YMMV... :-o

Maiolica = 15th/16th century tin-glazed earthenware, AKA lustreware. (Note that Victorian tin-glazed earthenware is called "Majolica", i.e. with a "j"). Maiolica was originally shipped across to Italy from Spain via Majorca (hence the name, somewhat misleadingly), but the technique for making it was copied in Northern Italy, which became the leading centre for their manufacture (circa 1450). http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~kovacevi/homepage.htm

Mirror of Princes = a type of medieval document which purported to advise princes on how to tackle numerous different aspects of stately life. Filarete's utopian "Treatise on Architecture" falls into this category, as does Machiavelli's (in)famous "Il Principe". However, Alberti also wrote a satire ("Momo e Il Principe Italiano", which is online at http://www.intratext.com/X/ITA0734.HTM ) taking the mickey out of these "Mirrors" (which tended to take themselves rather too seriously), & their intention (to influence those in power) seems rarely to have succeeded. Oh well. :-/

Murano = the centre of the Italian glass-making and mirror-making trade, which was tightly controlled by Venice. A few of the containers in the VMS pharma section have decoration similar to glass from Murano circa 1450-1500.

Nocturnelle = a hand-held circular early modern instrument similar to a volvelle, but instead used for calculating the time at night from the position of the stars. AKA moon-dial, or even phebilabe or phebelabium (following David A. King).

Rotoscope / Rotograph = a kind of projective photograph system used in the early 20th Century, whereby images (rotographs) were projected onto the plane of a screen inside a mechanism (a rotoscope), which could then be examined closely or traced from. The British Library was given a set of VMS rotographs in 1931.

Volvelle = a hand-held medieval astrological instrument made from concentric circular dials, & used to calculate planetary positions...

Wiki / WikiWiki = a generic name for a web-page which anyone can edit quickly without having to learn HTML. Try it yourself! :-)

WMV = Wilfrid Michael Voynich, who bought the VMS in Italy in 1912. His original (Polish) name was "Michal Wojnicz", and his clandestine spy-name (don't ask) was "Wilfryd" - when he moved to the West, he westernised his name to be a mixture of the two, spelt more phonetically.

Wolkenband = a chain of clouds, often used as a squiggly decorative feature in 15th Century Italian MS, to be seen on VMS page f68v3 (first brought up by Erla Rosakiewicz in 1945 - see http://www.ehabitat.demon.co.uk/vms/letter-050.html ) and indeed throughout the VMS' balneological section.

YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary, ie "interpret the preceding statement(s) how you will"