Churchill, Stalin, and Edward Elgar

The following developed out of a discussion lead elsewhere with regards to a possible breaking of the Dorabella cipher. (I wonder if anybody ever followed the original point of the post, namely the link to Sarah Goslee’s site?)

I challenged the codebreaker’s method (applying a simple subsitution cipher and then “processing” the resulting intermediate text), and asked him to give me a random string of characters, and I would transform it — just for the kick, and to show the arbitrariness of it all — into a message from Churchill to Hitler using the same processing techniques he applied, namely the reversal of letter sequences, and the heavy use of slang (“Backslang” — Not being a native speaker, I replaced it with mock German).

Thereby I wanted to show that those techniques would always render something readable, no matter whether the previous substitution had been correct or not.

The message I had been given was a string of 87 characters which looked like this:


First, I noticed that letters b, c, g, h, p, and z were missing, which altogether comprise about 14% of volume in english texts. The lack of “h” was most dearly felt, because it wouldn’t allow me to write “the”, “this”, or “thespian”, so I decided that “v” was actually “h”. (Since it is derived from a simple substitution, some guesswork is surely allowed?) I couldn’t really do a lot about the fact that the whole 28 characters of the last line contained only two vowels.

I then decided that Churchill would have written a mocking message to Hitler, and to do so he would use phonetical spelling and faux-German words. I also assumed that the “l” would have to stand in as an exclamation mark at times. Furthermore, character strings of the text may have been reversed, as in Dorabella.

Having done that, I arrived at the following (bottom lines in all caps):




This parses as follows:

  • “KINJ!” — A mock address of Hitler as “King!” (deliberately misspelled, to put him in contrast with Churchill’s ‘real’ king)
  • “TH” — “The”
  • “LAQ” — Faux spelling of “lack”
  • “OF”
  • “E” — “your”
  • “MEUEET” — Mock spelling of the German word “Mut” (“courage”)
  • “MEII” — Faux “may”
  • “RQRS” — A contraction of “requires” (with mock faulty grammar)
  • “DOH” — “do”, with a pun on “duh”
  • “THER” — “their”
  • “LALTNEENS” — “latreens”
  • “FE” — “Stalin” (The chemical sign for iron is “Fe”, and it is well known that Stalin translates as “man of steel”)
  • “HOT”
  • “EWD” — A contraction of “ewe’d” (“ewe” as in “female sheep”)
  • “FARMAR” — mock spelling of “farmer”
  • “DONT”
  • “DWD” — “Dude”, a mock spelling together with the fact that “w” originated as “double-u”, ie DWD=”duud”. Perhaps “dud”.
  • “NMWXS” — “Nijmegen’s”, in German “Nimwegens”. Speaking the consonants as a single string renders something like the german pronounciation
  • “DENT”
  • “WFDM” — I couldn’t transcribe. A very similar string (“wdfm”) appeared in the previous line, though in a different context.
  • “LISTD” — “listed”, as in “recognized, being listed in a directory”
  • “LSR!” — “loser!” Again, speaking the consonants as a string, renders the (english) pronunciation.

Which leads us to —

“‘King!’ The lack of your “mut” (courage) may requires: Do (duh!) their latreens! Stalin a hot-ewe’d farmer? Don’t, dude! Nimegen’s dent … Listed loser!”

Churchill seems to warn Hitler not to underestimate Stalin as a farmer with “ewes in heat” (a vulnerable farmer?). “Nimegen’s dent” probably refers to the failed operaton Market Garden, where the Allies lost large amounts of paratroopers in the area around Nimegen; “wfdm” might be an abbreviated vow of revenge. “Listed Loser” requires no further explanation.

Compare this to the supposed Dorabella solution

B Hellcat ie a war using effin henshells! Why your antiquarian net diminuendo? Am sorry you theo o’ tis god then me so la deo da — aye

This took me about 90 minutes, plus time to write it up.

If that post title won’t attract readers, I don’t know what will.


10 thoughts on “Churchill, Stalin, and Edward Elgar

  1. I just wanted to let you know that your following through with your satiric promise did not go unappreciated.

    By the way, I did in fact check out Sarah’s site. Clever woman with plenty of ideas: none of them solving our mystery.

  2. Very clever, Elmar. But this sort of thing is valuable. It keeps us in line. We always should wonder if there is another way to do it, or if there are other possibles than the one we are focused on. You’re good at reminding ME I know.

    And I also checked out Sarah’s site. I have a mental note as to what the charts might help with, and I’ll return if I can use it (ironic she gets two mentions on this post, and none on the post about her site…).

  3. I think you’ve just proved my point very nicely – even by the use of ‘liberal anagramming’, altering letters to suit and sneaking in TWO languages (it puzzled me why you said Churchill & Stalin – very sneaky)- you’ve only arrived at a load of nonsense – I rest my case.

  4. Aw, come on, Tony:

    No “liberal anagramming” (you lately pointed out the disctinction to me), just reversing the direction of reading every now and then (just as you did); altering exactly *one* letter from the random layout you provided (where you had complete freedom of chosing your substitution alphabet); and using German (instead of your Backslang).

    And let’s not forget that you did not arrive at Why your antiquarian net diminuendo? (this sentence still no verb, BTW), but at why youd intaqraycin net dminuneho. Considering that, I think a Hot ewe’d Stalin is not all that bad…

  5. Come on – you seem to completely misunderstand ‘backslang’ – it is a ciphering system in itself (commonly used at the time & nothing to do with slang) similar to ‘Pig Latin’ – I did not willy nilly reverse letters but discovered his variation (a strict set of rules which applies to all but one of the words i.e. ‘dminuneho’ (this is a childish pronounciation which he used and left unaltered so the ‘oh’ ending could also be pronounced with the following word as in ‘diminueneho / oh am sorry’)

    substituting mock German may be comparable to Elgars phoneticised spellings nothing more.

    We are never going to see eye to eye on this – and I can see I appear to be the only person who believes in this solution – but that doesn’t make me wrong.

    I entered this forum to elicit some thoughts on my initial post here – not to hear a load of ill-informed comments about Dorabella again –

    Back to the VM

  6. Nice Elmar!

    The way this argument works best with me, is by
    turning it around. It is one thing to decipher a
    code, and then explain what the plaintext really
    means. It is quite another thing, to imagine that
    someone really wants to encrypt:

    King! The lack of your mut may requires: Do their latreens! Stalin a hot-ewe’d farmer? Don’t, dude! Nimegen’s dent Listed loser!

    and his first step is to transform it to:


    And then converts it to a secreat alphabet.
    (You actually omitted this step).

    This argument should also be applied to all
    ‘solutions’ that were meant more seriously.

    On top of that, I should say that you would have
    been justified in applying a simple substitution
    cipher to the text you have been given, as a first


  7. Your blog is barely readable. I mean, it displays on my browser, but there’s way too much clutter, asides, and pictures of Tom Hanks to make it legible.

    IIUC, your “solution” goes along the lines of —

    SHES NOT MINE (reference to Mozart), WOMAN, MORNING MOON (reference to Beethoven), 33 (possibly a reference to music one time-silence-symbol). OH MAN! YOU ONCE WON ME WOMAN, NOW MY NAME IS WHERE IS NO OTHER MAN’S NAME. NOW I AM WHO WIN AMOUR, MY OWN ETERNITY WHERE IS MY END

    (quoted to make it easier for the casual surf-by reader of this blog)

    Without going into the technicalities, this is obviously as questionable as Tony’s suggestion on the same grounds: It doesn’t make sense.

  8. I conced that maybe it couldnt have the sense that we like. BUT what Elgar message to Dora does?

    I have two mysteries solved, and one apparently goes very well, but this…

    Your solution must to be VERY VERY simple, and have 100% porcent match, like the one I propose. One of the problems its that, statistically, the more rough, and hard the solution is, the odds to be correct diminish on exactly an inverse correlation proportion.

    Be more serious and tell me how is wrong, otherwise Ill think that its correct
    -The Cybermacht

  9. Your “solution” doesn’t make sense (it doesn’t matter if it’s sense I “like” or dislike, it simply doesn’t make any sense whatsoever).

    It’s simply a string of words, but they don’t form complete sentences. They don’t obey grammar rules. They are not coherent. They bear no meaning.

    What would it take to convince you that a “solution” is wrong?

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