Voynich Decoded.
May 15, 2019 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Sometimes, you just need the right person for the job. After only a few weeks, Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, identified the language and writing system as the only known example of proto-Romance.

A paper in the journal Romance Studies outlines his discovery. So far, only the codex has been translated, but the next step is to translate the entire 200 pg. manuscript and compile a lexicon.

The key to Dr. Cheshire's success was a foldout pictorial map that provides the necessary information to date and locate the origin of the manuscript. It tells the adventurous story of a rescue mission to save the victims of a volcanic eruption in the Tyrrhenian Sea that began on the evening of the 4 February 1444. (previously)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll (83 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
So it’s NOT a hoax?
posted by sio42 at 9:07 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


what.

seriously?
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:10 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


You just know he's going to be unbearable at parties now.
"I don't know why everyone thought this was so difficult?"
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 9:11 AM on May 15 [41 favorites]


I am incredibly skeptical. That said, the paper looks... reasonable, to this incredibly lay non-linguist.
posted by parm at 9:18 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


It passed peer review, so there's that.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:20 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I love the arrogance of his tone:
Past scholarly attempts at solving the writing system are far too numerous to mention individually, but none was successful in any way, because every attempt simply used the wrong approach [string of citations]
But I guess if he decoded the Voynich MS in a couple weeks (probably after a bunch of people told him he was wasting his time), he gets a victory lap. I'll be interested to see how his peers confirm/rebut his findings. He's certainly given them plenty of incentive, by calling so many of them out, to double check his work.
posted by mabelstreet at 9:21 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


From the paper:
It was written by an entirely unknown and ordinary figure from the past, and without any deliberate code but a language and writing system that were in normal and everyday use for their time and place, ...
and
...
As such, manuscript MS408 is immensely important, because it is the only documentation of a language that was once ubiquitous over the Mediterranean and subsequently became the foundation for southern European linguistics in the present day.

So how did this come to be the only extant example of proto-Romance?
posted by Gordafarin at 9:22 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Alternate headline: "Yet Another Voynich Decoding Published With Effective Press Release". Kudos on the peer reviewed article though; anyone know the journal?

Cheshire's ideas on Voynich been around a couple of years now; see this critique of his theory from 2017. Part of that critique is the common one that would-be translators are very optimistically reading meaning into the gibberish their transcript provides. On skimming this new paper, it looks like he's focussed more on diagrams and short words. How about full pages of text?
posted by Nelson at 9:24 AM on May 15 [20 favorites]


"Figure 33 shows two women dealing with five children in a bath. The words describe different temperaments: tozosr (buzzing: too noisy), orla la (on the edge: losing patience), tolora (silly/foolish), noror (cloudy: dull/sad), or aus (golden bird: well behaved), oleios (oiled: slippery). These words survive in Catalan [tozos], Portuguese [orla], Portuguese [tolos], Romanian [noros], Catalan [or aus] and Portuguese [oleio]. The words orla la describe the mood of the woman on the left and may well be the root of the French phrase ‘oh là là’, which has a very similar sentiment."

I want to believe but the entirety of section "Images, Texts, and Translations" just reads as too perfectly neat. All these words survive, in their exact forms?

On preview, the article describes proto-romance as the common spoken language rather than latin which was for official documents. ie People who could speak it either couldn't read/write it, and if they could it wasn't ever for documents worth saving.
posted by Braeburn at 9:26 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


There are a number of writing systems (or suspected writing systems) which are attested by a single source. It's rare, but it happens.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:26 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I can't make up my mind whether I'm skeptical or sceptical, but it tickles a proto-romantical particle of me to think it might be true.
posted by pracowity at 9:29 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


So how did this come to be the only extant example of proto-Romance?

And how did it get on a 15th century manuscript, some 700-800 years after Vulgar Latin had split off into distinct languages?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:30 AM on May 15 [24 favorites]


> So how did this come to be the only extant example of proto-Romance?

A quote from the paper's author in the linked article:
The manuscript is written in proto-Romance—ancestral to today's Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician. The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government. As a result, proto-Romance was lost from the record, until now.
posted by idiopath at 9:30 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


And how did it get on a 15th century manuscript, some 700-800 years after Vulgar Latin had split off into distinct languages?

This is my big question. Wouldn't this be a lot like finding an Elizabethan document that reads like Beowulf?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:35 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: incredibly lay
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:37 AM on May 15 [13 favorites]


Curiously, his research profile on the University of Bristol website seems to have disappeared some time in the last ten days:

Missing page

Google Cache from 5 May

And the Bristol University news page doesn't mention this at all.

There's something weird going on, at least.
posted by parm at 9:38 AM on May 15 [21 favorites]


This makes no sense, porto-Romance? For instance, the changes from Vulgar Latin to Langues d'oïl to Old French to Middle French to French is fairly well documented. There isn't space for a proto-Romance stage there, or in any of the Romance languages actually. And Romanian is based on Vulgar Latin, but has nothing to do with the other languages since it broke off as proto-Romanian in like the 600's so I'm not sure how this would even work lingusitically for it to have a parent that is shares with the Western Romance languages after Vulgar Latin.

The number of people who solved the Voynich and later proven wrong could fill the Rose Bowl. If it has a "solution" the details needed to decode it are probably lost to time now.
posted by jmauro at 9:39 AM on May 15 [21 favorites]


If it's mostly a straight up a-z alphabet for a not-that-weird-to-Europeans language with some extra features thrown in, how hasn't this been picked up by statistical cryptanalysis already?
posted by each day we work at 9:43 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Given other developments in the last few days I think it's pretty clear: Shakespeare wrote the Voynich manuscript.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:44 AM on May 15 [23 favorites]


connecting this to another recent fpp, maybe this was just one corny family's idiosyncratic dialect
posted by idiopath at 9:44 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Finding a way to explain why the heck there are triple/quadruple/quintuple letters in the text addresses one of the things I always thought was impenetrably weird/hoaxy about it.

I just shared this with a medievalist friend and I can't wait to hear what she thinks.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:47 AM on May 15




If it's a mostly a straight up a-z alphabet for a not-that-weird-to-Europeans language with some extra features thrown in, how hasn't this been picked up by statistical cryptanalysis already?

They've tried, and tried, and tried actually and have come up with nothing. What ever this book was meant to be, it's completely lost to time without any other similar texts to compare it to. As of right now it's basically an unbreakable one time pad.
posted by jmauro at 9:48 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Key sentence fragment at the end of the article: "which Cheshire acknowledges will take some time and funding,"
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:48 AM on May 15 [11 favorites]


what.

seriously?


No.

This is a repeating cycle: Someone announces that they've decoded the manuscript, it gets written up by a credulous popular press that is hungry for clicks, it does not become widely accepted by relevant scholars ... then time passes, and the cycle repeats again.

It might be a serious effort (being submitted to a journal and passing peer review*) but popular press coverage of the Voynich manuscript is, as a general rule, ignorable. Most journalists are not equipped to evaluate proposed solutions and reporting it skeptically makes it less sexy, anyway.

(*Note that passing peer review even in the most respectable journals with the best-run peer review processes often simply means "worth discussing" and not "we believe these results are correct." )
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:51 AM on May 15 [20 favorites]


I very lightly skimmed the article "The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained" and am utterly boggling at this in the second-last paragraph:
So, from De Rosa’s manuscript we understand just why manuscript MS408 is so dominated by female issues, activities and adventures and why so few images of men appear. The only males in the citadel were the abbot, celibate monks and young boys, leaving the women and girls sexually and emotionally frustrated, so they amused and distracted themselves whilst they waited and yearned for male attention to return.
posted by readinghippo at 9:51 AM on May 15 [16 favorites]


one corny family's idiosyncratic dialect

Ok whose turn is it to type the MetaFilter: joke
posted by oulipian at 9:52 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


The key to Dr. Cheshire's success was a foldout

I knew this whole thing would end up being viral marketing for Mad magazine.
posted by Etrigan at 9:55 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


FWIW, my money is on the Voynich being an old fraud; maybe 16th or 17th century. (The paper is from the early 15th century.) The reason no one can decode it is because there's nothing to decode. The text was generated via automatic writing or some random algorithm. Probably to generate a book that could then be passed off or sold as a valuable curio. Or maybe a sincere effort to channel writing from heaven. Either way it is not a transcription of anything.

One interesting angle on this as looking at the entropy of the text. Most coverage of Voynich entropy talks about how the entropy is low and so it must reflect natural language, not some encrypted text. Sure, it's not encrypted. but the entropy is really low, low enough to make one suspicious it's a European language at all. (Also the odd repeated characters mentioned above). As much as I'd like to believe it's a magical transcription of a Polynesian language 200 years before Polynesia was known to Europe, it seems much more likely it's just not a real language at all.
posted by Nelson at 9:56 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


I feel sorry for this guy.
posted by jamjam at 9:59 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I still hold out hope that it dropped in from an alternate universe. It would explain all the plants no one has ever seen.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:00 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Somewhere, someone mischievous is chortling in their Early Renaissance grave.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:05 AM on May 15 [7 favorites]


I've got half those growing in my garden.
posted by pracowity at 10:05 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire

Just to point out that the only place he's mentioned on Bristol's website, he's a doctoral student, Mr Gerard Cheshire, and a visiting Research Associate. In my experience (of being in that position), that's not something where you should be doing anything other than occupying a seat at a desk occasionally and going along to see visiting lecturers.
posted by ambrosen at 10:13 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Key sentence fragment at the end of the article: "which Cheshire acknowledges will take some time and funding,"

I have had an epiphany.

Much in the way that woodcutters used to plant trees so their grandchildren would have something to cut, the Voynich manuscript was *produced by 16th century linguists* as a way to ensure employment for their descendents.

It was designed to be tantalizing to people with too much money and a naive knowledge of linguistics, specifically so that people like Chesire could continue their real research in a, lets face it, otherwise unfundable speciality. A few papers about the manuscript will keep the money coming in while you work on obscure Egyptian dialects.

I think this shows remarkable forethought on the linguists' part, and I suspect that a modicum of research into the educated people in that era will reveal the author posthaste.

In fact, all you have to do is fund my research...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:20 AM on May 15 [39 favorites]


Another pointed takedown here. This came by on Reddit a couple of months ago also.

The main point is that, even if we accept the alphabet Cheshire has devised, you just end up with a word-salad dog's breakfast, wholly lacking grammatical structure.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:24 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


There's really nothing quite like decoding the Voynich Manuscript for the very first time.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:26 AM on May 15 [16 favorites]


Somehow I managed to open this link without noticing the title and so when I saw that the fucking Voynich Manuscript has been translated I just yelled out loud at my desk at work — a kind of guttural "yaah" — and now I have to explain to my whole office what the Voynich Manuscript is.
posted by penduluum at 10:28 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


and also that your "yaah" was premature

they'll remember this, you've given them a gift
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:29 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Oh lord, this is wild-ass crankery. Taking a representative sample--
The first four annotations refer to conditions on land. They read: alas a asar (area is roasting hot: Latin, Spanish); ona (good/safe: Galician); o’qué nas (this is flowing: Catalan, French); omina opas asa (dangerous passage it is: Latin, Spanish). The second four annotations refer to conditions in the water. They read: omone na (large mass floating/moving: Italian, Latin); omone a (a large mass: Italian); opna na (membrane floating: Adriatic, Latin); o’quo nana (of where small: Latin, Italian).
First, when you're attempting to decipher a script, you want the longest possible text, not 1-to-3-word fragments. That's because it's so easy to fool yourself with the fragments. As he proceeds to do.

But even with this advantage, he can only 'read' it by scuttling across a mass of dictionaries. And most of the words he claims to find aren't even right— e.g. asa is not Spanish "it is"; nas is not "flowing" in French; quo is not "where" in Latin. And even then his interpretations make no damn sense. "Of where small"? "This is flowing"?

Second... he doesn't understand what Proto-Romance is, or what it'd look like. It would not be a "blend" of Latin plus modern languages. It would be a late form of Vulgar Latin— probably something like the Oaths of Strasbourg, from 842. And it didn't survive anywhere near the 1400s, when Cheshire thinks his mishmash was written. We have hundreds of years of examples of the medieval Romance languages; Proto-Romance was long gone.
posted by zompist at 10:30 AM on May 15 [35 favorites]


Also, I found his Twitter, and it turns out that he's local to me, uses the word snowflake and tweets grammar ‘corrections’, as well as being tediously predictable on what issues in Bath he cares about (new development bad, pollution charging bad, Christmas market bad).

But my prurience was disappointed when I couldn't find any engagement with anyone I know on Twitter. Anyway, he's published a few local history books, he's not young, and his academic linguistic career's neither in danger of taking off nor being derailed by this quixotic but only minorly harmful pushing of the Voynich manuscript.
posted by ambrosen at 10:32 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


Proto-Romance

we sure the Zentradi didn't write it?
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:33 AM on May 15 [16 favorites]


from Nelson's link:
Like a badly mislabeled lift, this is wrong on so many levels.

snerk
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:34 AM on May 15 [17 favorites]


> Curiously, his research profile on the University of Bristol website seems to have disappeared some time in the last ten days...

That doesn't mean much on its own beyond the likelihood that his appointment had expired. In context with this publication, his appointment might not have been renewed because he annoyed the administration by spending too little time as an academic in biology and too much time inserting his engineer's disease-addled brain into places it hadn't been invited.
posted by at by at 10:38 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I (linguist) have neither the time nor the specialized knowledge to evaluate his proposed decipherment, but the way he uses terminology definitely strikes me as "lone crank unfamiliar with the field". For example, he uses "diphthong", "triphthong", etc. where he means "ligature". (Maybe he was thinking of "digraph", "trigraph", etc., but that's not quite what those terms mean, either.) Elsewhere, he glosses "proto-Romance" as "prototype-Romance", which...no, Greek proto- is a prefix with an established meaning.

I have no idea how this section on "The Language" made it through peer review. It proposes that the language of the manuscript is a language form spoken in the Kingdom of Aragon: "Their kingdom would therefore have encompassed numerous early Romance language variants due to the many peoples under their rule, and with varying levels of linguistic meme flow between populations." A blend of various contemporary Romance language forms used in the Mediterranean in the 14th century is not the same thing as proto-Romance, which was the variety that preceded the split of the various Romance languages, and furthermore, there's already a name for such a blend: it's the Lingua Franca (a phrase that appears nowhere in the paper). Proposing the Voynich manuscript is in the Lingua Franca isn't out of bounds, but I get the impression he's never heard of it.

I mean, if he has a decipherment it'll stand or fall on its own, but I'm not optimistic.
posted by The Tensor at 10:39 AM on May 15 [29 favorites]


a word-salad dog's breakfast

Salad for breakfast is in another thread....
posted by Foosnark at 10:40 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


we sure the Zentradi didn't write it?

*Zjentohlauedy
posted by The Tensor at 10:42 AM on May 15


As someone who works in academia, I'll point out that being a "Research Associate" can mean as little as some faculty member emailing their department's admin and saying "hey, add this person to our departmental web site as a Research Associate".
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:48 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Finding a way to explain why the heck there are triple/quadruple/quintuple letters

Scribal abbreviation, at a guess. Because vellum was expensive. Crazy making if you're dealing with early manuscripts, and even early printed stuff.
posted by BWA at 10:48 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


when I saw that the fucking Voynich Manuscript has been translated I just yelled out loud at my desk at work — a kind of guttural "yaah" ...

As ejaculations go, definitely, uh, ahead of its time.
posted by jamjam at 10:49 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


 So how did this come to be the only extant example of proto-Romance?

A shady cartel comprising former members of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and A Flock of Seagulls have spent the last 30 years ruthlessly destroying all others.
posted by scruss at 11:15 AM on May 15 [22 favorites]


Looked over the paper. My hot take:

1) It is a very clever alphabet attribution.

2) It is nonetheless not as clever as the author thinks it is, given that the author admits it misses symbolic representations for k, h, ch, sh, j, g, and y. I also didn't notice b, f, or w anywhere in there. A Romance language without written symbolic representation for b, f, g, OR k?

3) Some passages in the paper scream "I AM A CRANK!" E.g.:

"... identifying the language and solving the writing system required some ingenuity and lateral thinking"

Did it now.

"... the solution was found by employing an innovative and independent technique of thought experiment"

Was it now.

"Clearly the spa lifestyle was highly regarded as a form of physical cleansing and spiritual communion..."

Clearly. I see.

"Figure 15 shows the letter ‘n’ from the manuscript. It is an unfamiliar symbol to the Latin eye, as it has North African origins in the nuun symbol ... As the Italian peninsula is proximate with North Africa it meant that the Arabic symbol for n would have been familiar at that time anyway, so its adoption also made practical sense for a working alphabet."

You want to cite any other instances of that happening in a Romance language? Any cite at all? No? OK.

"So, we have proto-Romance words surviving in the Mediterranean from Portugal, in the west, to Turkey, in the east. Clearly, it was a cosmopolitan lingua franca until the late Medieval period..."

Clearly. I see. This can be the only explanation for why you had to ransack so many dictionaries to come up with vaguely meaningful translations.

"The only males in the citadel were the abbot, celibate monks and young boys, leaving the women and girls sexually and emotionally frustrated, so they amused and distracted themselves whilst they waited and yearned for male attention to return. They must have jumped at the chance of an adventure when the volcano erupted in 1444, as the citadel would have felt like a gilded cage by then."

Uh ... huh.

4) The actual translations get less an less convincing as they progress.

Color me unconvinced.
posted by kyrademon at 12:19 PM on May 15 [31 favorites]


"Clearly, it was a cosmopolitan lingua franca until the late Medieval period..."

WTF? I searched for "lingua" and "franca" when I was writing my comment above. Has the article been tweaked, or am I just an idiot?
posted by The Tensor at 12:26 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


FWIW, my money is on the Voynich being an old fraud; maybe 16th or 17th century. (The paper is from the early 15th century.) The reason no one can decode it is because there's nothing to decode. The text was generated via automatic writing or some random algorithm.

I'm with Nelson. I'll believe a pre-modern code can stand up to modern codebreaking when you can show me a suit of chainmail that can stand up to anti-tank cannon.
posted by Mogur at 12:30 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]




The key to Dr. Cheshire's success was a foldout

I knew this whole thing would end up being viral marketing for Mad magazine.


Nah - fold-*in*s are at the back of Mad. Fold-outs are Playboy. Thus the focus on women.
posted by notsnot at 12:39 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Some passages in the paper scream "I AM A CRANK!"

The whole topic is crankbait. I get that people who are serious scholars have looked at it too, but it seems to appeal to a certain kind of person who could be more profitably using their time refuting Einstein.
posted by thelonius at 12:42 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


the manuscript was written in an extinct and hitherto unrecorded language as well as using an unknown writing system

This sets off my "crank alert." There have been a lot of attempts to decode the manuscript that relied on novel translation methods. They don't usually survive attempts to translate more than a few sentences. Let's see the full translation and see if his methodology holds up.

I've tended to lean towards John Dee and Edward Kelley as the authors. They had already invented "enochian", the supposed language of the angels, so creating a "hitherto unrecorded language" was well within their abilities.
posted by SPrintF at 12:59 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: a kind of guttural "yaah"
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:16 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I've tended to lean towards John Dee and Edward Kelley as the authors.

I've always liked Dee and Kelley and am surprised that respectable Voynichologists regard them as improbable. They lived at a plausible time (significantly too late for the dating of the manuscript, but far from unreasonably so if they got old materials), had the right blend of skills to produce this kind of work, and were totally willing to perpetrate hoaxes of this sort (occasionally getting high on their own supply, though). They seem like far more serious suspects than Roger Bacon or Albertus Magnus, both of whom were way too early (and that can't be easily explained away; Dee could get old vellum with some effort, surely, but there's no way Roger Bacon got vellum from the future).
posted by jackbishop at 1:46 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


...but there's no way Roger Bacon got vellum from the future

Well not with that attitude.
posted by The Tensor at 2:13 PM on May 15 [18 favorites]


From one of the comments in the 2017 takedown (apparently from someone to whom Cheshire sent his 2017 paper for review): "Anyway, I sent him a detailed explanation of the flaws in his paper, assuming he’d appreciate some pointers, but he replied that it’s a shame I put so much time in it since he knows he’s right – so no need to correct him."

Turns out the arrogance I was so amused by upthread is the only thing this dude's got going for him.

This post did give me a come to Jesus moment, though: I realized that, if the VMS is ever decoded, I don't know anybody IRL that I could talk to about it. Time to re-assess my life choices...
posted by mabelstreet at 2:38 PM on May 15 [14 favorites]


We need that lady who deciphered Linear B.

If I ever get a chance to bring back someone from the dead for dinner, I’ll see if we can get our hand bones on this.

This has got to be easier than a completely character-based non-Latin language.
posted by sio42 at 2:39 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Maybe it was the Freiherr von Chaos who did it?

(I'm kidding, of course, and just using this as an opportunity to trot out one of my favorite historical names: the seventeenth-century Austrian nobleman named Johann Konrad Richthausen von Chaos -- discussed briefly in this LARB article and in this Wikipedia entry [in German]).

Seriously, though, I find the Voynich Manuscript utterly alluring. It's not just that it's a mysterious and undeciphered (and possibly undecipherable) text. It's also that it comes from that strange era that seems so close chronologically, yet the intellectual categories with which people made sense of the universe seem so alien.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 2:49 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


You know it's not a valid decipherment because an avatar of Nurgle hasn't been summoned from the Warp to claim Holy Terra for Chaos.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:00 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Is it Voynich Finally Deciphered Week again?
posted by edheil at 3:16 PM on May 15 [9 favorites]


fwiw, 'Romance Studies' has an impact factor of 0.03 in 2017/ 2018, down from 0.11 in 2011.

The topics covered by the articles they publish are... ecclectic.
posted by porpoise at 3:30 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Deciphering the Voynich Manuscript used to be something reserved for retired academics, like discovering Atlantis or deciding the ancient Israelites were high on mushrooms all the time. The simple old times...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:22 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Hey you just gave me a great idea, I'm gonna give myself ergot poisoning and see if that makes the Voynich Manuscript make sense. Fame and fortune, here I come!
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:31 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I’m going to become a crank after retirement. Sounds fun. A crank on an ice floe.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 4:42 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


The comments on the 2017 article are quite a roller-coaster, especially when one of the participants is accused of being a thinly-veiled sockpuppet of the theory's author.
posted by Pyry at 4:48 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I'm no expert, but I think this is one of the least compelling explanations I've come across. If it really is a missing link between Latin and modern Romance languages, it seems impossible that it's been undeciphered all this time, and how would an otherwise-unknown, non-Latin alphabet get in there? And tying it in to royalty just strikes me as old-fashioned grift.
posted by ckape at 5:24 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Good summary of some critical responses from ars technica. Here's a useful quote from Lisa Fagin Davis (I only excerpted half of it, there's also something about the fact that proto-romance as described doesn't exist):
As with most would-be Voynich interpreters, the logic of this proposal is circular and aspirational: he starts with a theory about what a particular series of glyphs might mean, usually because of the word's proximity to an image that he believes he can interpret. He then investigates any number of medieval Romance-language dictionaries until he finds a word that seems to suit his theory. Then he argues that because he has found a Romance-language word that fits his hypothesis, his hypothesis must be right. His "translations" from what is essentially gibberish, an amalgam of multiple languages, are themselves aspirational rather than being actual translations.
posted by advil at 5:35 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


The comments on the 2017 article are quite a roller-coaster, especially when one of the participants is accused of being a thinly-veiled sockpuppet of the theory's author.

That was really a fun ride (for some definitions of fun). It reminded me so much of web debates in the early 2000s between avant-garde poets and reactionary cranks who pined endlessly, in haughty, overwrought language for a time when Poetry was Spoken and Memorized and Set to Song and that these avant-garde scribblings might have well as have been the recorded babbling of children who hadn't yet learned how to put a sentence together.
posted by treepour at 7:05 PM on May 15


Metafilter: there's no way Roger Bacon got vellum from the future.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:31 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


There's something so human about a not-so-humble grift operation.
posted by baptismal at 9:12 AM on May 16


Yeah... proto-Romance was called Latin, a reasonably well documented language. If the Voynich MS had a hint of that, it would have stood out a mile a very long time ago.

Now, proto-Codex Seraphinianus... that I could get behind.
posted by Devonian at 10:34 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I'll admit when I first read the headline (but not yet the article) I got the Voynich manuscript confused with the Codex Seraphinianus and was super hyped.
posted by Justinian at 11:20 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


It's a cookbook!!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:51 PM on May 16


University backtracks on disputed Voynich manuscript theory

Asked for his reaction, Cheshire told the Guardian he felt “no disappointment at all” at the university’s backtracking. “It was inevitable and expected, given the passion that the manuscript arouses, that a marginal group would find it difficult to accept new evidence,” he said.


“The paper has been blind peer-reviewed and published in a highly reputable journal, which is the gold standard in scientific corroboration. Thus, all protocol was followed to the letter and the work is officially supported. Given time, many scholars will have used the solution for their own research of the manuscript and published their own papers, so the small tide of resistance will wane.”


"I'm not mad. I'm actually laughing "
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 8:04 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Not sure if this is a coincidence or not, but obligatory XKCD is obligatory.
posted by signal at 9:44 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I was dead certain you were going for *this* obligatory XKCD instead.
posted by kyrademon at 2:09 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


First link is down. (Goes back to translating Finnigans Wake into Esperanto)
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:45 AM on May 20


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