Notes to Myself

Sometimes I write notes to myself. I do this because my short-term memory is imperfect. Call it a compensatory mechanism. Anyway, I've been doing this most of my life.

When I write notes to myself, I don't always necessarily want just anyone to be able to read them. Often the intended audience consists of exactly one person, me.

At some point I realized that, having studied a couple of foreign alphabets, I could write notes to myself in them, and most people wouldn't be able to easily read it, even if the actual words were entirely in English. Since English contains some phonemes that the foreign languages in question do not, I developed special conventions for representing those sounds, either by modifying existing letters with diacritical marks, or simply by taking a letter that normally represents a sound English doesn't use, and pressing it into service to represent an entirely different sound.

Of course, being the person that I am, I couldn't just leave it at that. After all, somebody might know the Greek alphabet. Somebody might know the Hebrew alphabet, for that matter. (This isn't as far-fetched as some might think. I know a handful of people who know both of those alphabets. In fact, I live in the same house with another such person.)

So naturally at some point I started mixing things up a bit. Being a bit of a glossophile, it was natural to learn several more writing systems and adopt some of the symbols from those. Some of the letters were too complex and took too long to write, so I simplified them by leaving off parts I deemed unimportant. At some point I changed my writing direction... and so it goes.

The note in the picture is a good example of the kind of thing I do now. (This particular note doesn't contain anything private, so if you're thinking of trying to decipher it, feel free, although you run the risk of being labeled a linguistics geek.)

Why am I sharing this? I have no idea. Maybe it's a feeler: am I really the only person who does this sort of thing?


Andy said...

I know at least three other people that do this. You're in good (if rather geeky) company...

I see the Greek and the Hebrew; I also note that you're either turning all the letters 90 degrees to the left, or you're writing top-to-bottom and right to left. I also see a few letters that I think are Russian, but I don't normally see Greek handwritten, so I may be confusing the two, as they're related.

Jonadab said...

> I know at least three other
> people that do this.

That's surprisingly good to hear.

Yeah, I did indeed write top-to-bottom in columns from right to left, and then rotated the paper ninety degrees. Believe it or not, that was done for practical reasons. I had originally written right-to-left as in Hebrew and then at some point experimented with back-and-forth writing (boustrophedon, which I may be misspelling), but ultimately I found top-down works better with the way I'm doing the vowels, because the amount of space needed below the line varies considerably, leading to a lot of wasted space between lines in horizontal writing. Conserving space can be important when you're jotting notes in margins, as I often do, so I eventually settled on writing top-down, rotating the paper if necessary to orient the available space vertically.

Yes, Greek, Hebrew, and Cyrillic symbols are all represented as you noticed; besides those, there are two other major writing systems that each contribute numerous symbols, and I took the symbols for two extremely common phonemes each from a different source.

At one point I also had a Klinzhai symbol (for B IIRC), but I dropped it a couple of years ago in favor of something easier to write quickly.

Then there are the custom modifications (most of which were done to make the symbols quicker to write, but they have the side effect of making it that much more obscure).

It is also worth pointing out that most people's gut instinct would be to treat it as a substitution cipher, but it's not. It's a phonetic writing system, and besides ignoring irregular spellings it also includes some phonetic distinctions that the standard orthography for English ignores (e.g., voiced and unvoiced th are entirely different symbols). There are also multiple ways to write some sounds.

Oh, and some of the less frequent symbols represent a consonant and a vowel together. (This is a natural feature of the writing system from which they were taken. I suspect any half decent cryptanalyst would quickly deduce this feature, at least as far as "represents more than one letter", via statistical analysis.)