Brown Undergrads Break “Roger Williams Code”

Roger Williams's handwritten code.

Excerpt of Roger Williams’s 1679 handwritten code.

Code-making and code-breaking are close first cousins to foreign languages, as perhaps is music this article in the NIH’s Frontiers of Psychology suggests. This week, Brown University announced that a group of undergrads cracked a handwritten “code” Roger Williams used to pen some of his last drafts of religious tracts. Click here to read the story on

The code breakers infer that Williams, who knew to some degree six languages in addition to English, developed his code to save paper. His home in Providence had been burned, he’d moved in with his son, and paper and space were in short supply. The only snag with that theory (to me) is that if the point is to save space, why dip into Greek and Hebrew? Its EZ 2 abrevi8 Eng!

Sometimes I dip into Japanese on my grocery lists by writing, for example, 肉 instead of “meat”. Is that more space efficient? Sure. Is that why I do it? Not really. I’m doing it for fun, and I’m betting that’s what Roger was doing too.


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