Linguist Claims He's Solved Gulliver's Travels Riddle

Irving Rothman says he's solved the centuries-old mystery
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2015 7:32 AM CDT
Linguist Claims He's Solved Gulliver's Travels Riddle
In this publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, Jack Black portrays Gulliver in a scene from "Gulliver's Travels."   (AP Photo/20th Century Fox)

Long have scholars debated the origins of the "nonsense" language in Jonathan Swift's most famous novel, Gulliver's Travels, though Isaac Asimov once said making sense of it is a "waste of time" because "I suspect that Swift simply made up nonsense for the purpose." But now a linguist at the University of Houston says he's solved the riddle, and he argues in the summer 2015 edition of Swift Studies that the words play off of Hebrew. Irving Rothman says he's amassed several clues, one being that Swift, an Anglican minister, studied Hebrew at Trinity College before going on to publish his iconic book in 1726, reports the Houston Chronicle.

The book chronicles the travels of Lemuel Gulliver, who at one point is captured by 6-inch-tall people on the island Lilliput. Here Gulliver encounters a "nonsense" language built off of 22 letters, just like Hebrew. And one phrase, "Borach Mivola," shouted while Gulliver imbibes liquor, could be a variant of the Hebrew "Baruch," or "blessed," with "Mivola" being related to the Hebrew "mivolim," or "complete defeat." And the "Gnea Yahoo," Swift's term for irrational, wild creatures, could be built off a Hebrew variant of God—Yahveh—where "Gnea," if read right to left, as Hebrew is, sounds like "ayn," or "not." "Those beasts are the opposite of God," Rothman concludes, while "Gulliver is a human being achieving saving grace, a hope not accorded to the Yahoo." (How old is the Old Testament really?)

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