Countdown to Crackdown?

Until now, the VM has refused to give up its secrets because it’s so “hermetically sealed”, because there is no crack in the wall into which we could jam our crowbar to crack the cipher open — we don’t know the cipher alphabet, nor the plaintext language, have only the faintest idea about the contents, and, since the pagination was done in arab numbers, can’t even use that for a crib.

The first word on F17v --  in EVA

The first word on F17v — “fshody” in EVA

At the same time, one of the (many (some would say “countless”)) puzzling and confusing features of the VM is the fact that in the herbal section, the first (regular) word on the page, not counting the labels, is most of the time unique, and very rare in the other instances. It has for this reason been suggested, that these first words or “titles”*) are the actual names of the plants depicted.

Now, aside of the fact that I have the strong conviction that VM ciphertext words don’t map 1:1 to plaintext words, I also think that wouldn’t make sense: If you have a whole page dedicated to a single plant, wouldn’t it be obvious to use the plant’s name more than once? You wouldn’t write “Dandelion.**) It’s green. It’s got long roots. It’s got yellow flowers. It develops a kind of ‘snow’ for seeding.”, but rather something along the lines of “The Dandelion has got yellow flowers which turn into what is called ‘Dandelion snow’ for seeding.” Likewise, one would assume that various pages make reference to each other as well — like “The blackberry looks like the raspberry, except it’s black.”

Both times, this would increase the use of the page titles, rather than making them unique words. (You would expect the subject of a section to show up more often, not less often than average.) Now I’ve wondered whether perhaps these first words have a completely different meaning — are they maybe simply numbers?

Let’s assume for the minute that the titles plainly number the entries in the herbal section — “25. entry: The boring dandelion,” or such. If we assume that the better part of the VM isn’t concerned with numbers, then it wouldn’t be surprising that these title words are always pretty rare. It would also explain why each title is unique — because duplicating your indices would be daft.

And of course, it is an incredibly tempting aspect, because if this was really the case, then that feature could be a crib to crack the VM. If we can reconstruct the original page sequence before the various rebindings (and Nick Pelling and René Zandbergen et al have given us good means at hand to do so), that would mean that we had the numbers 1 through 50 or so in Voynichese before us, in plain sight — which would be a better start into cracking the rest of the cipher than we’ve had in the last century.

I’ll need to look into that.

*) I’ll simply call them that.
**) No, I don’t suggest f17v is a dandelion. Get real.