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I was reading an old math textbook, Cocker's Decimal Arithmetic, and came across this cryptogram:

The question I have is about the beginning of the text:

Anixo guo Anamfiggino Jorammi Lehkeg Lofoxrofeholrii Torgiemgig Im Xonifafu Disohemiemgi Puwinasigfeho.

Since the vowels haven't been changed, it's easy to decipher this, using a simple substitution cipher:

Amico suo Amantissimo Johanni Perkes Potochoterophii Fohsiensis in Comitatu Wigoreniensi Ludimagistero.

Which translates roughly to:

To his dearest friend John Perkes [Potochoterophii Fohsiensis] in County Worcestershire Schoolmaster.

And this is where I got stuck. Can anyone help me figure out what "Potochoterophii Fohsiensis" might mean, or point me to resources to help me figure it out?

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  • It would help if you could list the substitutions. Right now I fail to see how one is to deduce t -> f. Does f -> t imply t -> f? Generally "-iensis" indicates "of" in the sense of being from some place. E.g. floresiensis = of Flores (an island in Indonesia). So "Foh" would be the place name in this case, however I am not aware of any locality by that name in Worcestershire.
    – njuffa
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 6:39
  • "Potochoterophii" has a Greek feel to it. "Ptochotrophii", perhaps. ptóchos: (of one who crouches and cowers, hence) beggarly, poor; trophé: nourishment, food. Correction to previous comments: Fohs-iensis -> "of Fohs". Which does not make any sense either.
    – njuffa
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 7:07
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    @njuffa Sorry about that. I didn't list the substitutions because I didn't think they were germane: I was asking a question about Latin, not cryptography, and didn't want to clutter up my question. The substitutions are: B=Z C=X D=W F=T G=S H=R L=P M=N N=M P=L R=H S=G T=F W=D X=C Z=B You are correct that F=T implies T=F. A,E,I,J,K,Q and Y are as written Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 9:24

1 Answer 1

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The text is corrupt: the first word is meant to be Ptochotrophii, as reflected in e.g. this transcription from an encyclopedia from 1837. Ptochotrophium is a variant of ptochotropheum, which is a Latinisation of Greek πτωχοτροφεῖον 'poorhouse (lit. beggar-feedery)'.
The second word, too, is messed up: it should be Fohliensis (nom. Fohliens). This presumably identifies the specific poorhouse—Fohl's or Fohley's?—but a quick google does not yield a list of 17th-century poorhouses in Worcestershire, so that's where the search runs dry.

These aren't the only errors in the text: Disohemiemgi/Wigoreniensi should be Disohmiemgi/Wigorniensi, Lèpeag should be lpeag, roughèg should be rouhg, feheafige should be fheafige, ruuz pe should be runzpe, and John Hawkins' name at the end is actually given as John Hawkims. These seem to be transmission errors, not Hawkins' own mistakes.

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    I found a scan of an edition from 1685, and it has "Torpiemgig" (or possibly even "Terpiemgig"). Thus "Fohliensis".
    – njuffa
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 8:27
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    This older edition also has "Lòfoxrofèholrii" and "Lèpeag", so perhaps accented letters were supposed to be omitted (so "Lèpeag" turns into "Pleas"), something that later typesetters overlooked. Also "roughèg" and "fèheafige" (the accent on this last one is faint but does seem to be there).
    – njuffa
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 8:41
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    @Cairnarvon I suspected the text was corrupted, because I had noticed the same spelling mistakes that you described in the decoded text, and I tend to agree that they are transmission errors. With your corrections, the text roughly translates to: “To his dearest friend John Perkes of Foley’s Poorhouse in County Worcestershire Schoolmaster.” I believe “Foley’s Poorhouse” may be a reference to Oldwinsford Hospital, which is a school initially for poor children founded in 1667 by Thomas Foley, and which still exists to this day. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 20:36

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