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August 16, 2023

Making English orthography fun: A mathematically-oriented reform

This paper contains a short summary of the motivation and the basic rules underlying a humoristic reform of English orthographic as it has been proposed in the author's book entitled 'How 2 Shor10 English Texts' published by Shaker Media Verlag (Aachen, 2017). The paper includes a set of puzzle tasks for different levels of difficulty. To facilitate the goal of readers to find solutions for the riddles, a subset of puzzle tasks is accompanied with cartoons to illustrate the solutions. All solutions are also presented together with a detailed justification of each solution.

Motivation and basics of our ‘mathematically oriented reform’ of English orthography

The desire to shorten texts to reduce the effort of writing has always been very popular. This has led to the invention and common use of stenography – otherwise known as shorthand. However, learning stenography requires effort. As a result, people were looking for alternatives which are easier to learn and use.

An example for a completely different approach to shortening text is represented by the kind of writing which is popular, in particular, among younger generations when sending texts or emails. Here, formulations such as ‘CU’ or ‘C U’ (for ‘see you’), ‘U R …’ (for ‘you are …’), ‘coffee 2 go’ (for ‘coffee to go’), ‘tea 4 U’ (for ‘tea for you’) etc, are quite common.

Some time ago, I wanted to find a way to help the students in the courses I was teaching at the University of Hamburg. It came to my mind to invent a mathematically-oriented reform of the German language which would not only use numbers and single letters pronounced as in the alphabet, but also make use of well-known mathematical symbols, such as: +, -, ·, /,  , etc. First, I applied my reform of orthography to German language only and published the results in my first book: Um etliche Ecken ged8 (first version in 2012; second version in 2018 [1]). Recently, I decided to apply this approach for language compression to the English language and thus invented an innovative proposal for a mathematically-oriented reform of English orthography.

The most important rules for our reform of English orthography:

  1. Mathematical operations don’t have to be used in a mathematically correct manner.

Example: ‘-tax’ for ‘tax reduction’ or ‘h+’ for ‘hand’ are acceptable, though a mathematician would be much happier seeing a difference or a sum with two operands!

  1. Typically, only lower case letters are used. If letters are used as CAPITAL letters they will always be pronounced as in the ABC. 

It is also allowed to mix small and capital letters in single words to indicate “ABC pronunciation” – just of the capital letters.

Example: B will denote ‘be’, or ‘bee’; C will denote ‘see’, ‘sea’; X will denote ‘ex’ or ‘cross’; Tn will denote ‘teen’; B4 will denote ‘before’; idNTT will denote “identity”; …

  1. Words can be written anyway that supports ease of understanding and pronunciation, not necessarily in an orthographic correct manner.

Example: ar/me or even R/me (for army division’) is not necessarily abbreviated by ar/my, depending on ease of reading.

4. Blanks can always be omitted.

Example: In n·ew or n·U which abbreviates to ‘new product’, the blank between both words is missing.

5… and last but not least:

Creativity in the invention of new kinds of writing has always priority over a strict application of mathematical or orthographic rules!

What can be achieved?

In some cases, compression factors of up to nearly 80% can be reached, or more explicitly, it’s possible that the characters required after compression may be only 1/5 of the original text. As example:  T 4 U (abbreviation of: ‘tea for you’), Y R U so Z 2dA ? (abbreviation of: ‘why are you so sad today?’), ∀4 Ø  (abbreviation of: ‘all for nothing’; Note:  ∀ = ‘all’ and  Ø = ’empty set’ or ‘nothing’).

Let us now consider different degrees of difficulty on the basis of which we are going to present puzzle tasks (riddles) to the reader. Here, we distinguish the following levels of difficulty:

  1. Beginners
  2. Playing with capital letters
  3. Advanced
  4. Expert
  5. Genius

Evidently, the mapping of puzzle tasks to the five categories distinguished is somewhat subjective. I hope that the reader will enjoy the cartoons that accompany the riddles and help to illustrate the text. All illustrations have been produced by the creative illustrator Rico W. Hasselfang (aka: Sascha Wolfinger). The solution for all the riddles along with an explanation will be found below the puzzles here:


B1: √66

B2: he lost 40th

B3: with U, I Njoy T 4 2


Playing with capital letters:

P1: 2 DYd

P2: Br bR

P3: RTQl8



A1: ∀ c@s R grA by n8

A2: (gr+pa) + (gr+ma) still 0 2 walk h+ in h+

[Note: 0 = love (like in tennis); not zero]

A3: 1st, she asked 40 + then 4 coffE, 2



E1: V 0 2 C th@ ∀ of our (nU· s) R ∀ most sold out

E2: V R fascin8ed by ∀ the 1 Rmed b+its in reno

E3: Y do U Blieve th@ he’s the √∀evil ?




G1: the Tcher was |ly| frustr8ed 2 C th@ ∀ most ∀ pupils knU Ø 

G2: l8ly, gr+ma (Bcame + what) 4getful

G3: R U sure th@ ∀ this ⇒ Ø ?


Solutions and justifications

Let us now give the solutions for all of the riddles presented above. To simplify the interpretation of the solution’s justification, we have decided to apply formatting decisions which should help the reader to better understand the solutions. In particular, we have put all mathematical symbols, numbers and capital letters in italics and, in addition, mathematical symbols are all underlined.  Moreover, in the solutions, blanks are sometimes indicated by a point, if this potentially facilitates the readability.

B1: Solution: Route 66 [because: Rootsixty-six]

B2: he lost four teeth [because:  he-lost-for.tieth]

B3: with you, I enjoy tea for two [because:  with-U-I-N-joy-T-four-two]


P1: To divide [because: two-D-Y-d]

P2: Beer bar [because:  B-r-b-R]

P3: Articulate [because: RT-Q-l-eight]


A1: All cats are grey by night [because: all-c-@-s-R-gr-A-by-n-eight]

A2: Grandpa and grandma still love to walk hand in hand [because: gr-and-pa-and-gr-and-ma-still-love-two-walk-h-and-in-h-and]

A3: First, she asked for tea and then for coffee, too [because: first, she-asked-for.ty-and-then-four-coff-E, two]


E1: We love to see that all of our new products are almost sold out [because: V-love-two-C-th-@-all-of-our-n-U-product-s-R-all-most-sold-out]

E2: We are fascinated by all the one-armed bandits in Reno [because: V-R-fascin-eight-ed-byallthe-one-R-med-bandits-in-reno]

E3: Why do you believe that he’s the root of all evil ? [because: Y-do-U-B-lieve-th-@-he’s-the-root-ofall-evil]


G1: The teacher was absolutely frustrated to see that almost all pupils knew nothing [because:  the-T-cher-was-absolute-ly-frustr-eight-ed-two-C-th-@-all-most-all-pupils-kn-U-nothing]

G2: Lately, grandma became somewhat forgetful [because: l-eight-ly, grandma-B-camesumwhat-four-getful]

G3: Are you sure that all this implies nothing? [because: R-U-sure-th-@-all-this-impliesnothing ?]


The large variety of examples discussed up to now should allow most readers to accomplish the level of ‘Advanced. In order to reach ‘Expert’ or even ‘Genius’ let us refer such persons to the author’s book entitled How 2 Shor10 English Textswhich was published by Shaker Media, and which contains numerous further riddles with various levels of difficulty accompanied by a large number of humoristic illustrations (again all designed by the illustrator R. W. Hasselfang) [2].


[1] Windenberg, R, Hasselfang, RW (2018) Um etliche Ecken ged8 (Version 2.0). Kreative Erweiterungen der „mathematisch-orientierten Rechtschreibreform“. Aachen: Shaker Media Verlag, 139 pp. (in German)
[2] Windenberg, R, Hasselfang, RW (2017) How 2 Shor10 English Texts. Aachen: Shaker Media Verlag 133 pp.

Written By

Prof. Dr. Wolfinger, Bernd E.
University of Hamburg

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