Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chipper Skiffer Chiffer Sculpture (Or: Alan Turing's Likeness)

In Bletchley Park's museum stands (or sits, rather pensively hunched over an Enigma machine) this slate sculpture of mathematician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist, Alan Turing. Lots is written about Alan Turing, his life, achievements and his apalling treatment at the hands of the British judiciary system, and I'm not here to repeat all of that.
Taken by me.
I'm here to relate a startling but ultimately meaningless coincidence that I picked up during a conversation with one of BP's resident bombe team. It goes like this:

The Swedish word for "slate" is "skiffer". Go here and click the relevant button to hear how that's pronounced.

There's another Swedish word that's pretty similar when written down, but, when spoken, almost indistinguishable to my unpracticed ears*: "chiffer".

And what does that mean, boys and girls?
"Cipher". Go here and press the appropriate button to hear them both spoken in quick succession, then come back and agree with me.
* I think the difference is mainly in the intonation and/or emphasis than the actual sounds used, although I'm fairly sure I'm feeling a slightly harsher sound at the beinning of "skiffer" compared with the beginning of "chiffer".