Continuing Dr. Strong’s work (1)


Leonell C. Strong

This is not intended to be any sort of blog entry, it’s only intended to be some random thoughts I’m having on the Voynich. Furthermore, the below work has all been done before and may seem rather simplistic compared to some of the research done. In a way, it is. Since I’m relatively new to the Voynich (compared to some of the older researchers), I fully intend to fumble my way through the same mistakes they made. Bear with me.

Before beginning any serious work on the Voynich I’ve done a good bit of digging. One thing I’ve ran across are some letters and notes by Dr. Leonell C. Strong.  In 1945, he claimed to have deciphered the Voynich and published an article in Science magazine regarding it. What he published was a ‘decryption’ of folio 78r into what roughly appeared to be medieval English. While it made only partial sense, it did make some. In one of his letters, I discovered that he realized his work wasn’t complete but he thought he was on the right track. At the time, he only had 3 pages of the Voynich to work with and every time he asked to see more, he was rejected. Friedman even went so far as to try to have him turn over his work with the assumption that Friedman would take all the credit.  As a result, Strong refused multiple requests to reveal his decryption method. In one of his last letters dated 1977 he said, “I wish you all the luck in your search. I fondly remember the hours of scout work I did before the light broke.” This indicates to me that either he had deciphered the Voynich or, he was still angry over his rejections and was compounding the mystery. If you’re not familiar with his work, a brief history can be found here:

Undaunted by the fact that everyone seems to be claiming his work to be nonsense (I find it hard to believe a man of his intelligence and background to be that nonsensical), I thought I’d dig into it a bit.  I’m going to start going through his notes and trying to replicate what he had accomplished. Yes, I know it’s been done before and still left researchers scratching their heads but, everyone needs a hobby. And rather than be a pundit who sits back blasts every other interpretation of the Voynich as being wrong, I thought I’d actually work on solving it. Besides, the pundits don’t have nearly enough to write about.

One of the first things Strong did was a word length comparison.  He painstakingly took pages from various medieval texts, counted their word length and created a chart. Below is a chart I created using similar techniques except, I used full documents loaded into a MySQL database. What took him weeks only took me a couple of hours.

Here’s where he was counting word lengths from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.




Here’s Dr. Strong’s results.


And here’s my chart of the results…wordcountI was rather pleased to see that my results, except for the error in my coding which generated the anomalies above 20, mirrored his upper chart. I’m still not certain what his lower chart indicates. While he compared it to several more works that I, including Shakespeare and two early German language works we both came to the conclusuion that the word length of the Voynich peaks with 5 letter words.

Basically, Y-Axis is the percentage of times a word of a specific length occurs in the text. The X-axis is the word length.  One of the things I believe he was trying to prove with this is that the Voynich more closely resembles English than Latin (assuming the spacing in the Voynich is correct) when it comes to the size of the words.


Dr. Strong  believed that the Voynich was encoded using a tabula recta method developed by Trithemius. If this is the case then it’s a polyalphabetic cipher and, according to what I’ve been reading, should produce some unique charting results. Supposedly, unlike normal languages, the frequency of first and last letters in the Voynich should produce a ‘flat’ result on a line chart as those letters are encrypted and thus, don’t reflect how common certain first letters, like ‘T’, are.

Here’s my charts of Voynich first and last letters.


LastletterWell, that didn’t come out as expected. The Y-axis indicates the percentage of occurrences of the letter and the X-axis shows the letter in the Voynich – Chaucer’s A Knight’s Tale. If I’m correct, and what I’ve been reading is correct, this would indicate that it’s not a polyalphabetic cipher (the asterisk is a ‘splat’ in the transcription).