Lately I’ve been working for an airline, so the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta) is always in the back of my head. It’s has now been standardized for the whole world; unfairly, for the words foxtrot and x-ray are difficult for non-English speakers.
Did you ever like to play with codes? My sisters would bug me by speaking in an invented language that I couldn’t begin to grasp. Eferafa mufuy dififificifil defe efentefendefer. (It was very difficult to understand). To do it, they would take every vowel out of a word and wrap it around an “f”. Every “a” became “afa”, every “e”, “efe”. “I”s became “ifi”s and so on. They called the language Efe.
That sparked me to start finding codes and learning them. I learned a little bit of Morse code, and researched the nautical flag alphabet, but memorized neither. I took up Pig Latin (ichwhay asway easiestay), and a weird faux-Egyptian called Tut, which, in the tradition of Efe, wrapped every consonant around a “u”, lulikuke thuthisus (like this). I once made the mistake of answering my fifth grade teacher’s question in this code…which got me in trouble. I bet she hated me, I was so bored in her classes that I could be a veritable pest.
In High School, I was able to decipher the runes in Thror’s Map in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit. The writing in the Lord of the Rings stumped me though. Only this year have I been able to learn a little bit of it. It doesn’t help that some of it is in Middle English, and several completely invented languages, like Sindarin, Quenya, Khuzdul, and Black Speech. In the nineties, I stayed away from Klingon…I’m already too nerdy for my taste. I only slightly more practical now, in that I play with modern alphabets, like Greek and Japanese (Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji).
As a computer scientist, I like to invent ways to encrypt and decrypt data. The state of the art in this is so advanced though, that I don’t think I could find a better way (yet?). I hope the NSA isn’t reading this…they specialize in natural code-breakers, which I am not (I hope).
Image by Anthony Catalano, used with a Creative Commons license