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  #1  
Old 21 June 2012, 07:19 AM
Saint James Saint James is offline
 
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Military Message encoded by lack of poor punctuation

I ran into this story in the 'real life' section on a page of TV tropes. I have no idea if it is true (or even verifiable), but it certainly is interesting:

Quote:
A soldier from the Second World War managed to invoke this trope unintentionally; he was well known for having a very poor grasp of punctuation, and once joked with his wife that if he ever sent her a perfectly punctuated letter, she should underline the first word of every sentence and it would reveal a coded message. when he was captured by the Nazis and put into a labour camp, he remembered the joke, and sent his wife a coded message hidden inside a well punctuated one. It worked, and his wife, with the help of the British government, managed to smuggle various items to him which he used to escape the camp.
Anyone have any insights?
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  #2  
Old 21 June 2012, 02:30 PM
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Quote:
A soldier from the Second World War managed to invoke this trope unintentionally; he was well known for having a very poor grasp of punctuation, and once joked with his wife that if he ever sent her a perfectly punctuated letter, she should underline the first word of every sentence and it would reveal a coded message. when he was captured by the Nazis and put into a labour camp, he remembered the joke, and sent his wife a coded message hidden inside a well punctuated one. It worked, and his wife, with the help of the British government, managed to smuggle various items to him which he used to escape the camp.
I vote that it's garbage.
I read a very detailed book by David Khan, an internationally recognised author on the history of encryption and secret messages, and he listed several ways that snippets of info were passed out of POW camps during the war. But it was not possible to get more than a few basic words out. The Germans weren't stupid, they were on the lookout for this sort of thing. He never mentioned this story in his book.

What could they possibly smuggle in that would help him escape. There was a case of maps being hidden in care packages, but that doesn't help you get out of the camp.

Such an extraordinary story would have made it in to the media, if not during the war, then immediately afterwards.
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  #3  
Old 21 June 2012, 03:49 PM
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They might mean escape the camp in the larger sense of escaping and making it back to England.
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Old 21 June 2012, 03:50 PM
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So he could punctuate if he tried? Lazy bugger.
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  #5  
Old 21 June 2012, 03:54 PM
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Lots of prisons have training programs to help prisoners improve their sentences.
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  #6  
Old 21 June 2012, 03:56 PM
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I hear they frown on semi-colons; they just make sentences longer.
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Old 21 June 2012, 03:58 PM
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Not as much as they frown upon leaving a sentence incomplete.
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Old 21 June 2012, 05:10 PM
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More to the point... What words could this hypothetical POW have gotten out that would have helped smuggle items in? Unless it was supposed to be a secret that he was a POW (and that's pretty much impossible given the scenario of the Germans allowing him to write letters and have them delivered at all) what could he have possibly told them? And why would his government have cared?

"Oh, hey guys, we just found out Private Thompson is being held at Stalag 13. We haven't cared about all those other soldiers that have been held there for years already, but since Private Thompson has cleverly developed a means to communicate in code with his wife, let's be good sports and help him out just to show we're nice guys. Let's start by asking him if he could use some wire cutters! Oh, and Watkins, be a good chap and ask him if he'd prefer they be placed somewhere along the perimeter by a member of the resistance or if he'd prefer they be smuggled in through a Red Cross care package!"

For the scenario to be plausible at all, among other things this POW would have to have been somewhat high-value, someone the Allies would like to have gotten back, but who the German's would have been okay about not having shot right away as a spy or perhaps commando, yet would have kept isolated from large groups of fellow POWs in which case I'd expect the story could have at least provided us with a name to go with the story, right?
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Old 21 June 2012, 05:44 PM
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I could accept the story as little more than morality play (glurge) if it didn't fly in the face of logic. Someone who is bad at punctuation intends to fake obsessively good punctuation in order to send a coded message. Seriously, doesn't that usually work the other way around?

- P
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Old 21 June 2012, 05:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASL View Post
More to the point... What words could this hypothetical POW have gotten out that would have helped smuggle items in?
He wasn't able to perfectly punctuate his letter and it was his poor punctuation that got him special attention.

He should have signed his letter:
Mike Thompson,
Brig G,
Stalag 13,
Germany

Instead he signed it:
Mike Thompson, Brig. G.
Stalag 13, Germany
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  #11  
Old 23 August 2012, 10:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ParaDiddle View Post
I could accept the story as little more than morality play (glurge) if it didn't fly in the face of logic. Someone who is bad at punctuation intends to fake obsessively good punctuation in order to send a coded message. Seriously, doesn't that usually work the other way around?
Not if the writer asked, say, another POW with a much better grasp of punctuation to help him out.
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  #12  
Old 23 August 2012, 11:24 PM
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Read This!

If this was early in the war it might be true but later in the war a team of German code breakers had cracked the first-word-of-every-sentence code. To this day no one knows how it was done. Some have speculated that they had developed their own machines like those at Bletchley Park. But in any case, the Allies had to switch to the third-word-of-every-sentence code for sensitive transmissions.
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Old 24 August 2012, 12:13 AM
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Very true. I hear that if the Germans cracked that one the next step was to switch to an even more sophisticated "1st word of the 1st sentence, 2nd word of the 2nd sentence, 3rd word of the 3rd sentence, …, nth word of the nth sentence" code. Obviously, it was meant to be used only for very short or very important messages. Though it was never employed operationally (that we know of, except of course for the trivial case of single word or redundant follow-on word sentences such as "HELP!" or "HELP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE HELP!"), the code was thought to have been in development for several years, perhaps even decades before the war.

Supposedly, Joyce was actually commissioned to write Ulysses as a cover for the initial research into this code, to gain experience in the problems associated with writing very long but correctly punctuated sentences in the event the code ever needed to be deployed. Much like breaking the sound barrier, it was thought that if an English-language sentence exceeded 2317 words the reader’s eyes would be blown out of their sockets. As an aside the precise origin of the significance of that number, 2317, has been lost to time, but it’s supposed to have some basis in sub-Roman mythology, perhaps from the kingdom of Kent. In any event, Joyce was clearly brave enough to take on the challenge and though his record has since been surpassed, with is brave foray into the unknown Joyce blew them all away. The, uh, doubters and the naysayers, that is. Metaphorically speaking, I mean. Not their eyes.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce: Unsung Hero of the British Empire.

Last edited by ASL; 24 August 2012 at 12:18 AM.
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  #14  
Old 24 August 2012, 12:24 AM
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Um, that's going to piss off some Irish people.
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  #15  
Old 24 August 2012, 12:27 AM
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That's why he had to be an "Unsung" hero.
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  #16  
Old 03 September 2012, 11:33 PM
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I heard a story in a similar vein to this, although possibly unintentionally on the part of the person sending the message- there was one spy team (in the netherlands IIRC) that was so bad at encoding messages ( as in, they made errors in encoding the messages, so that when it was decoded, it came out incorrectly) that when the errors suddenly disappeared it told the British that the team had been turned into double-agents.( the germans checked the encoded messages and corrected them before transmission, causing the end of the errors)

that seems more likely than the story in the legend although messages were sent out from POW camps- mostly requests for items, I think.
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