for mortals…

“My ruler Utopos [Greek for “no place”] made me into an island from a not-island. Unique among lands, and without philosophy, I signifiy for mortals the philosophical city. I freely share my gifts, and accept without complaint what is better.” – Thomas More

Utopian alphabet.

Lesson / Koan : Spelling is a lost art.

Utopia’s original edition included the symmetrical “Utopian alphabet” that was omitted from later editions; it is a notable, early attempt at cryptography that might have influenced the development of shorthand.


Among the still outstanding questions concerning Thomas More’s Utopia is the source of the Utopian alphabet that was published in the prefatory matter to the 1516 Louvain and 1518 Basel editions. For the last half century the standard treatment of this problem has been the 1966 article of the Indologist J. Duncan M. Derrett, who argued that the Utopian alphabet was South Asian in origin. Specifically, More and his collaborator Peter Giles derived it from a now unknown traveller’s description of the Indian Malayalam script supplemented by study of Near Eastern alphabets such as the Arabic script.

A, b, c, d, e, f, parallel r, s, t, v, x, y. The alphabet is composed of 6 modified circles, 4 curly and rotated semi-circles, an anomalous figure, a triangle, 4 rotated right-angles, and 6 modified rectangles.

Outdoor Utopian alphabet.

More  & Giles invented a series of symbols to replace (or encrypt) the letters of the Roman alphabet.

Although More  & Giles did not create a unique language for the Utopians, they imagined that they would write in an exclusive, coded script. Like the island setting, this measure would provide the Utopians with greater self-containment and set them apart from the outside world.

Shelton shorthand alphabet.


Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed or brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is called stenography, from the Greekstenos (narrow) and graphē or graphie (writing). It has also been called brachygraphy, from Greek brachys (short) and tachygraphy, from Greek tachys (swift, speedy), depending on whether compression or speed of writing is the goal.