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Weird Words: The Voynich Manuscript

Possible codes, mysterious languages, and answers that elude us…we can’t get enough of the Voynich manuscript.

It’s a pretty well-known artifact that’s been a frustration ever since Wilfred Voynich acquired it. That was back in 1912. It was probably written in the 1400s, and the pages are made of a pretty standard material, vellum, not paper. It’s handwritten, which is also not odd, considering its origin in time.

What’s weird are the words we can’t read, labeling even stranger illustrations of patched-together plants, odd multi-armed swirls, and a map here and there. It would probably all make much more sense if we could just understand the words.

voynich plants

voynich stars

But we can’t.

People love a good code challenge, whether to set one or break it. The Enigma code machine played a role in World War II, the Zodiac killer’s last code is still undeciphered, and the Taman Shud case continues to frustrate. Codes are why the Voynich manuscript fascinates people. It’s an unanswered question, spread out over pages and pages, given illustrations that no one knows what to do with.

The best part of the mystery is knowing that someone, at some point, might have known. Two friends, with one secret. A professional code between associates. Fun and games. An unknown dialect of a known language? A hoax, maybe. Fanfic, or a tie-in work to some other piece of fiction? All of these are possible, some definitely proposed. Especially the hoax. If it can’t be figured out, then it’s a hoax, right?

Except for one key detail.

Recently, as in 2013, two scientists, Marcelo Montemurro and Damien Zanette, found that the words appear in a pattern that would only occur in an actual language and would be absent in something completely made up.

Suddenly, it’s entirely likely that the Voynich manuscript, strange illustrations and all, does mean something and has some context in which it can be understood.

Trouble is, we don’t know what that might be. But isn’t it fun to imagine?

Voynich on Skeptoid

Voynich Wikipedia entry

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