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The letters comprising the word “conversation” can be rearranged to spell “voices rant on”; the phrase “debit card” shuffles to spell “bad credit”; “statue of liberty” jumbles to spell “built to stay free.” Anagrams of words can reveal insightful, or perhaps coincidental, truths. For me, rearranging, reorganizing, and reversing words have always been favorite pastimes. Since I was young, I have always found myself altering the syntax of sentences and combinations of letters to form new and unintended meanings.
I firmly believe there exists a connection between the fields of mathematics and language. This understanding has always come to me intuitively; yet, every English teacher I’ve ever had has asserted a dislike or even downright loathing for numbers. My math teachers, too, will often justify typos in handouts by saying, “That’s why I’m not an English teacher!” Only my Algebra II teacher in eighth grade, Ms. Steffero, confirmed my theory that the two disciplines can in fact coexist peacefully. I admire her for being an avid, lifelong student of both mathematics and literature.
Whenever I see any word, phrase, or sentence, I immediately search for patterns and hidden meanings in the text. Perhaps there is a higher being that slips these messages into the writings of humans and entertains itself by watching me puzzle over them. Every aspect of writing takes on a special significance for me: I scrutinize sentence structure, capitalization, and even the spacing of words to see if I can extract another meaning from the possibly random combination of letters that lies before me. Couldn’t every sentence in existence arguably have been created by the proverbial monkey on a typewriter? Why, then, should there not be multiple meanings to every potentially random sequence of letters and words?
Gnikaeps sdrawkcab si rehtona tibah fo enim (speaking backwards is another habit of mine). By challenging our perceptions of the English language, I believe it is possible for humans to expand their linguistic capabilities. Words shouldn’t be interpreted linearly or narrowly; they can take on multiple meanings, even beyond those of synonyms. My habits of rearranging, reorganizing, and reversing words have unquestionably strengthened my command of English. I can instantly glean certain facts about any word, including the number of letters it contains, its anagrams, and what it sounds like backwards. Surprisingly, these peculiar practices have helped me recall the definitions of words more quickly and better guess the meanings of words I don’t yet know.
My extreme case of logophilia forces me to constantly search for obscure words to bring up in conversation and publication. Unfortunately, the limited vocabularies of others cause me to experience bruxomaniac tendencies; my dentist has advised me against grinding my teeth so frequently in frustration. To ameliorate this linguistic affliction, every week I publish an informal pamphlet for my peers, which, among other things, includes a “word of the week” section.
A cryptography course taken through a Johns Hopkins University program one summer formed my initial interest in the field. The final exam consisted of an all-day scavenger hunt trailing through the campus. The journey culminated in my group’s excursion to the bottommost floor of the library, where we found and cracked a cipher in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Gold-Bug.” This process of analytical thought and gradual discovery is what intrigues me about cryptography, and has inspired me to prepare for a career in this field by researching in mathematics and linguistics. Years from now, when you stop to wonder who ensures the security of your e-mails, or to curse the aggravating puzzlemaker who wrote that impossible cryptoquote, remember me.
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