The Lore of Scriptology: Lecture 6:

 Playing With Writing (Part 1)
(Part 2, Summary, on Another Webpage)

 & Summary

AdamBlatner, M.D.

Draft 030311:     Given as part of Senior University Georgetown's February - March, 2011 program.
   1. Introduction              2. The Early History of Writing            3. Mid-History of Writing                 4. Elaborations and Related Developments            5: Invented Alphabets              This is Lecture 6
    Further Comments on Scriptology

As I wind up this lecture series, I'll finish with some summarizing points. This will be on another webpage 6b: Final Comments and Further Thoughts.  To begin with, though, the emphasis in the first part of the lecture is an extension of the idea that people invent, they make up stuff, and if they can, you can, too.
One of my interests is in the nature of play. I want to help people reclaim their natural heritage of imaginativeness and spontaneity. Play is a built-in laboratory for this, though it has tended to be squelched during the industrial revolution, when exploration, imaginativeness and spontaneity and the like were not relevant to the nature of the work most folks needed to learn to do---i.e., behave more like robots. In our present era, when repetitive work is being automated and what's needed to remain economically viable is knowing how to apply imagination and creativity, play once again becomes relevant. This transition has been happening more in the arts in the 20th century, but now it's getting into almost every field.

Play is a mixture of exploratory behavior cushioned by a sense of safety, especially interpersonal or social safety. It's experimentation with an "as if" edge, because behavior that isn't taken as "counting" or "seriously" allows for the trying out of the edges of what is imagined as possible in a role. A significant amount of play involves the reassurance, the support, the signaling and counter signaling that things are okay socially. Beyond that, play explores every possible avenue of mind and body. "Let's see how I can do this."

Grown-ups in the 19th and 20th century codified writing, making it a reflection of style, intelligence, class, grace, acculturation, and other status markers. One did not play with writing, but rather learned how to do it properly. Correct grammar and spelling was part of this. Messing around with these standards evoked an almost visceral response by those who had internalized these values. There is a slsight sense of shock in reading an email in which a teenager or young adult writes, "i was waiting 4 u, i thought we wer goin 2 go to wilsons. :-(  " 

The question of how transitions should be made in writing "rules" seems to be being answered by the usage of a whole generation of text-messaging youth, from the bottom-up, rather than from the top down---i.e., as determined by the top academics and educational professionals. I have no conclusions to draw except to say that this is a lively cultural transition point we're living in.

But can we play with writing, can we fool around with the shapes of letters, the forms we take, the fonts and forms? Can we make up our own letters or emoticons (or smileys)? Well, people have been doing it for years! This lecture talks about some of those ways.


We can do codes for fun or for serious---very serious indeed. It might be argued that World War II was finally won by the allies because we figured out how to decipher enemy messages before they learned to decipher ours. Anyway, the topic is vast and you can see a bibliography about codes in the references. The idea of sending secret messages is ancient.

On the right is a military code technique used in Sparta (part of ancient Greece) about 400 BC:  The message was concealed among letters written on a narrow scroll while wrappted around a wooden staff or scytale. The text would appear to be complete nonsense, but when it is wrapped around another scytale of the same thiickness as that which is was written on, the message appears.

 Other examples of codes may be found then throughout history, but let's move up to the early Renaissance (about which I gave several talks last year).

Around 1465 Leon Battista Alberti devised a double ring type code, in which if you moved the inner ring around, and indicated which was the key to the ring with the first two letters, then A would be represented by the letter indicated. There could be several other ways of  making this more complex, depending on how often you changed the key. This was the "mother" of many future '"decoder" rings such as the kinds you got with so many box-tops from cereal boxes, or if you sent them in with some other proof-of-purchase or modest amount of money for "Captain Midnight" or other secret rings popular in the 1940s.

Below that to the left is another similar device created by Giovanni Porta, around 1570; but instead of an alphabet, what gets put down on paper are abstract symbols, ciphers. Below and to the left is an enlarged view.

(For cyptographers, codes often involve more complex numbers or code words that are agreed on, while ciphers often just have symbols replacing letters or words.)

 On the right is another code developed by Francis Bacon(1561-1626)---who is also known for his proposing a more rigorous methodology for science. This code is in some ways a forerunner of the binary code used in computers---it uses only two elements but with 5 letters / letter you can generate 5 squared (25) permutations which can serve as an adequate alphabet of 26 letters (U and V being the same for this purpose).
The Babington Code and Mary, Queen of Scots
Around 1586, under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, one of the hot issues was the struggle by Roman Catholics to preserve the unity of the Mother Church and the efforts of the Protestants to go their own way. This had been cooking for over a half century---and in some ways reflected the feelings generated during the American Civil War. At any rate, Mary Stuart, also known as the Queen of Scots, and a Catholic, had become a prisoner of Elizabeths for some years. She felt obliged to plot against the throne as a matter of loyalty to her religion.
   You’d think she’d behave herself, but no, she continued to plot against the throne.
    Elizabeth had a security guy, Walsinghame, the modern equivalent of secret service, who intercepted Mary’s treasonous plotting, and deciphered the code she was using it.
20       Using that code, he forged some addendums to the letters to bring to the surface some associates.

21 and on unearthing the plot, which some said was a sting operation—Mary claimed innocence— Mary was executed as well as her associates.

22. This is just a tip of the iceberg of the story of cryptography but let it suffice, because the point is that folks were making up alphabets, sometimes for deadly serious purposes. Fast forward to the American Civil War and they were using codes then, too, this being a knock-off of the kind of code used by Alberti in the late 15th century ...  
23 here’s another used in the civil war... but it’s elementary, now. I’ve seen this one in several children’s book, and cub scouts used it... still, you can use it with your grandkids...

24. Edgar Allan Poe used a code in the Gold Bug strory, and Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes deciphering a code, too.

25 segue... But let’s move towards the way you can make up and play with codes:
26 kids’ codes... in comic strip

27 don’t make em too easy or a clever adult can decipher ‘em
     Don’t have time to do this with you...

28. From another kid’s code book. There are a number of books written for kids that play off the theme of codes...

29. We could play with this later, decoding it..

30. Another one from the same book...

31   here’s one from Disneyland, from Indiana Jones’ temple of doom ride... I don’t know if many people noticed this...

32   from a cereal box

33. This book on wizards assume they write to each other in code, really a kind of code system like Alberti’s 500 years ealier...

34. Igpay atinlay, pig latin and variants..  Spoken codes...

35 Many other codes and systems.. From way back...

36. Musical code.

37,,,okay, segue again to just foolin around

38.  Onomatopoea is a fancy word to describe a word that sounds like what it describes, like burp...
   Here are some sort-of onomatopoeic written pictures..

39.  Or typefaces designed by an acquaintance...
 He’s not professional, but in a way that’s better, gives an idea of the intermediate process...

40. Some others I copied... again, variations of onomatopoeic writing...

41 and how some signs look like letters..
A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters and yet mean something ...

42   An ambigram looks the same upside down
all these are different ways to play with writing...

43. Other ambigrams

44. Naming that which generally has no official name, and that’s more linguistics, but it overlaps with our work, because some things tht are letters or symbols, punctuation or etc. have previously not had names...

45.   A teacher has the notion that making the writing elegant, interesting, putting into color, can make reading an interesting activity. She wrote a lovely book titled Goodbye Gutenberg, because computers can now allow for elements of color and design that wasn’t possible in the age of ordinary writing. She may be prophetic!

46   Pogo pompous: Back to typography to suggest tone and manner of speech...
This is PT Bridgeport a Barnum satire, with flowery language,

47 and here Walt Kelly plays with calligraphy and cartoon lettering to suggest an oily pretentiously pious manner of speech by the deeply hypocritical what? Another kind of possum or muskrat?

47... semi serious pleay back to that fuzzy arena

48 Douglas Hofstadter who has written about alphabets and patterns and language with some depth, while a college student made up his own writing system,

49   something sort of like Sanskrit but with whole new letters. Note the effort to generate some semblance of consistency in thickness and quality of forms...

50   translated it reads

51 it’s actually English, phonetically, written in this knockoff of devanagiri or Hindu like wiritnsg system, organized sort of like it, too,

52 the vowels...

53 which if written out and translated back from Doughalese to reading out loud. Reads as befpre///

54/ so let’s shift into even more fiction...

55 how many here read the books, the hobbit or lord of the rings?

56 or saw the movies?  This wasn’t really in the movies and only hinted at in the books, but I was delighted to discover he’d made a kind of writing system...

57 and it looked elegant. Interestingly, it was organized in a way not all that dissimilar to devanagiri, based on Sanskrit, and also a little like Korean—that is, the word order and form was based on phonetic principles

58 and for his kids, he made up another alphabet

59.  There were some books about gnomes written around the late 1970s, and one of them had a kind of alphabet...

60, did the authors see this picture?

61. You may need to read Norwegian to get these words, though... the book was translated from the Norwegian and I don’t know that they translated the script

62, Another fantasy-fiction writer made up a world and a people and a culture and a writing system.. Kesh

63. And another made up a fantasy world inhabeted by dinosaurs and people, dinotopia, and a kind of alphabet the intelligent dinosaurs could use...

64. Humans made up alpahbets. Chaucer back in the 14th century!

65 and Sir Thomas More in his book, Utopia...

66 And then there’s science fiction..

67 which started with the guy who wrote Tarzan, also wrote about Mars, and made writing systems for them...

68   and star trek...

69.   Folks have made up not only a writing system for klingon, but also a language with a dictionary, and they play speaking it at trekker conferences...

70..  It’s in keeping with their warrior qualities

71   On computer games

72 and in other sci fi books

73 and more recently...

74 more...

75 atlantean

76 tom tomorrow

77 dare you make up an alphabet?

78 Dr Seuss did

79   we need more letters!

80 and in the book he shows all these creatures

81 and cuts loose with the forms..

82..  And then he and others give partial scripts and with a little imagination I and you could fill these out ...

83, and make up some... like David’s

84 or mine

85, so... summary

86 scriptologygoes beyond linguistics and history and decipherment,
87 to being a part of the study of ancient and more recent cultures and regions, and politics..

88.. Which overlaps with the desire to educate people to encourage participation in democracy,

89 and extensions into art and related forms...

90 and other notational systems

nd this is the 6th and last or final lecture. Alphabets and scripts serve as a kind of language, a message of serious communication.

11 But one of my interests is also play, and after years of contemplating this elusive subject, I find the simplest definition of play is exploration within a relatively fail-safe context of just foolin’ around.

12. More breadth is now easily accessible with web-searches, so you can follow up on the details by browsing the internet.  Libraries, playing, etc. our topics today.
        Key point: Scriptology is a word that reminds you that applications in one way can be ingeniously applied in all sorts of related ways, as self-expression, art, etc.

13. A more serious way has been through codes.

What may have been be one of the last cases of smallpox.
Polio immunization in India.