Another Dimension: Dictionaries, Legends, Abstractions and Codes


What is a dictionary?  Yes, the author knows that this question is basic.  Please bear with him, because patterns are being set, and associations between concepts are being built.  So there is a reason to all this.  A book that provides definitions is called a dictionary.  The typical type of dictionary that most people are used to is a book that has long listings of words paired with definitions for the words.  The important thing here to understand is that a person that needs to understand a word may have to look it up to see the definition.  Typically, a definition in the English language of a certain word is a pretty literal thing, where the word really always means how it is defined.  So, there is a pairing between the word and its definition so that the pair of them are a unit.  In terms of an equation, like we do in math, it looks like this:

word = definition

This equation is always true.  Why?  It is expected that a word in the dictionary will always literally mean what it says, and there is no question.  It means what it means because the meaning of the word is inherent in the word.  Everyone that speaks the language knows what another person means because everyone has the same definition for the word.  And so, when a word is spoken, we have no doubt as to its intended meaning.

Above, we see the book to the left, and one of its words in the inside.  We see that the word shown is "dictionary," and it gives its definition, explaining the meaning.

Another name for a special type of dictionary is the word lexicon,.  This is especially used to describe specialized dictionaries containing words from another language and their derivations (etymology).  This is especially the case when it is a dictionary of an ancient language, such as Hebrew or Greek.  There are even lexicons of ancient, dead languages that nobody speaks anymore like Sumerian or Ancient Egyptian, that scholars had to decipher and reconstruct.


But what about a different type of thing that gives definitions that is not the same as a dictionary?  How about a legend?  I am not referring to the kind of legend that is a traditionary tale that is typically transmitted orally.  I am speaking of the kind of legend used on maps and on globes.  On maps, sometimes a certain color may be used, or a certain design, or a certain symbol.  And the legend on the map tells the user of the map what the intended meaning is.

Similar to a dictionary, a legend still has a pairing, between two elements.  There is the symbol and it is paired to its definition.  Just like the case of the dictionary, we see that each pair can be represented in a similar equation like we use in math:

symbol = definition

Now, here is the difference between a legend and a dictionary.  Does the symbol or design always literally carry the meaning attached to it in the legend?  Well, it certainly does on that map, because the legend defined explicitly what it means for the map, in that specific context.  But if you encounter that design or color or symbol on something else, it doesn't necessarily carry the same meaning.  As above, the color green means 30 to 40 inches of rain.  Outside of the map that this legend is associated with, does everyone in the world always think "30 to 40 inches of rain" every time they see the color green?  No.  What made it true that the color green means this in the map?  Because the legend said so.  In other words, we have an assignment of meaning.  This is different from an inherent meaning.  What is the difference?  A symbol used in a map and defined on a legend is usually abstract by nature.

It is true, however, that well-known symbols that are sometimes used in legends have come to have certain meanings or themes generally associated with them in our culture.  But more often, it is the less-well known symbols are entirely dependent on the meaning assigned to them for meaning.  And for this analogy, that is the point that I am focusing on.  Many times, there is a clear logic to a choice of a symbol used to represent something, even though it is still mostly abstract.  In other words, sometimes there is some general meaning or theme associated with the symbol that enables it to be employed meaningfully in a more specific context in the legend.  The legend assigns a specific meaning that shares a general theme with the regular meaning of the symbol.  And so, therefore, to get the specific sense intended in the map, these things still must have the legend as a dependency.

So, in summary, you can see that a dictionary has a lot in common with a legend, but there was a key difference.  The equation in the dictionary for each word/definition pair is so because it is generally understood to be so by all speakers of the language.  In the case of the legend, a symbol has a definition because it is an assignment.  This means that a word in English doesn't have a dependency on a dictionary for its meaning.  The dictionary is only making a statement of a fact.  The word has no dependency on a dictionary for this fact to be so.  In contrast, in a legend, when it has a symbol/definition pair, it is not necessarily understood by all people everywhere that the symbol ought to be understood to be what the legend says it is.  In this case, the symbol entirely depends on the legend for its intended meaning and use in the map.  Therefore, it has a dependency on the legend.  The legend ties it down to show its intended, assigned meaning so the user of the legend can make no mistake as to the intention in that context.  Outside of that context, it is abstract, and it is therefore open to any assignment or interpretation anyone would choose to give it.

Variables in Math

Above, we gave two equations:

word = definition (for a dictionary)
symbol = definition (for a legend)

There is a similar thing going on in math.

If we say 1 + 2 = 3, this is similar to what is going on in a dictionary with a word/definition pair.  This is a statement of fact.  There is no wiggle room here.  It is just a fact.  There is no dispute.  This is just like in the dictionary, where it means what it says.

Now, what about algebra?

What if we say x = 1 + 2 ?  Well, the answer in this case is 3.

What if we say y = 2 + 3 ?  Well, the answer in this case is 5.

What if we want to use x for a different problem?  Is y always going to be 5 then, if it is in a different problem?  No.  But in these two problems above, we have two assignments of value to two different symbols.

Each problem presents its own context.  Each meaning or value assigned to each symbol can vary, or can be different for each application.  And so, they are called variables.

And so we can show the answers to those problems in this way in a list:

x = 3
y = 5

In a "table," which is also a type of list, you get this, and it means the same thing:

x | y
3 | 5

Doesn't this table have a similarity to a legend?  Absolutely. We have two symbol/definition pairs, do we not?

Therefore, regular math was literal and concrete, while algebra was abstract and open.  A dictionary was literal and concrete, while a legend was abstract and open.  These analogies are very close to each other.

As you can see, an assignment that is made in a table or legend for an abstract symbol is required for that symbol to be meaningful.  And so, the table itself, or the legend itself, is what it depends on for its value or its definition.  Therefore, that is its dependency.

Codes and Ciphers

Now, what if you are a secret agent and you want to use the same principles that we just identified above to keep a secret.  A symbol will serve you well as a secret agent to keep a secret, right?  Or, a list of symbols?

So, for your secret code, you want to use symbols.  But you would not want anyone to know what they mean, except for the people that are supposed to know what they mean, perhaps other secret agents that work with you.  So, if you just use words out of the dictionary with literal meanings, it doesn't help you.  They are literal, and always mean what they say.  If you want something secret, that nobody knows generally, then you have to do something along the lines of what was done above with a legend, or assignments of value to symbols, like in algebra.

So, you need something like a legend, or a table, for your assignments (definitions) to your symbols.  Here are some examples of secret code tables:

Now, imagine that each one of these tables is on a separate page in your secret code book.  It is not generally understood by the public (except for the people in on your secret) that any of these symbols in these tables have the definitions that are defined in these tables.  That's a good thing, because if they did, they could figure out your secret.

And since you have a secret book containing your tables of your codes, and only your fellow secret agents have copies of this secret book, then perhaps your secret book has all of these tables in it.  So, now you have a bunch of symbols that nobody can understand without your book!  These symbols are all abstract, because each one could mean any number of things.  And your code book is now the item that contains your dependencies, because for anyone to understand what your codes mean, they are dependent on your secret code book.  So, to interpret messages using these symbols, an external dependency is required, which is your code book.  That is, it is external to (separate from) the papers where you write your encoded messages.

Any regular person trying to understand these secret messages using these symbols would not necessarily have this code book available, and that is the way you like it, because you have a secret to protect.  It is only available to secret agents.  Your code book has a lot in common with both a dictionary and a legend doesn't it?  Another name for a code book is a cipher.

Well, this hypothetical scenario with secret agents demonstrates an important point.  Just because you have symbols doesn't guarantee that you will understand them if their intent is hidden in something external to (or separate from) them.  If they are abstractions, then they require a key of some sort.  This key is contained in a code book, typically.

Word/Letter Puzzles as Legends or Code Definitions

Let us repeat an example here that we used in previous articles.  Ross Eckler has a PhD in Mathematics from Princeton University, and is a logologist.  As we showed in a previous article, he presented an acrostic (a special poem or literary structure that contains a type of word play) that, in this case, was using word-plays on the months of the year:

JANet was quite ill one day.
FEBrile troubles came her way.
MARtyr-like, she lay in bed;
APRoned nurses softly sped.
MAYbe, said the leech judicial,
JUNket would be beneficial.
JULeps, too, though freely tried.
AUGured ill, for Janet died.
SEPulchre was sadly made.
OCTaves pealed and prayers were said.
NOVices with many a tear
DECorated Janet's bier.

Unlike an entry in the dictionary, you wouldn't know what JAN is supposed to go along with if you didn't have this structure.  This structure acts as a key to something abstract.  JAN, in this literary structure, as January, goes along with the phrase "JANet was quite ill today."  January doesn't always represent Janet.  But a word-play here made January to represent Janet.  In this case, the acrostic acted like a simple dictionary or legend or code table, with these names of the month creatively decorating the things they are made to represent.  So, without the phrase "JANet was quite ill today", with the letters JAN capitalized, one wouldn't know that the author of the acrostic meant to represent Janet with the word January, or to create a link or association between the word Janet and the word January.  In other words, now, the structure itself can becomes an ad-hoc code-table.  It now has the function of a dictionary.legend, even though it was a work of art, perhaps only for entertainment purposes.  January by itself is too abstract and open unless it is put in a structure like this.  Otherwise, it is just the plain old month.  Unless you have this literary structure, you wouldn't know that the author of the structure was using it as pairs once again, like in a legend.  Put in an equation structure, the acrostic above becomes this:

JAN (January) = Janet
FEB (February) = Febrile
MAR (March) = Martyr
APR (April) = Aproned
MAY = Maybe
JUN (June) = Junket
JUL (July) = Juleps
AUG (August) = Augured
SEP (September) = Sepulchre
OCT (October) = Octaves
NOV (November) = Novices
DEC (December) = Decorated

In table form, it becomes this:

Month                   |   Word/Definition/Assignment
JAN (January)      |         Janet
FEB (February)    |         Febrile
MAR (March)      |         Martyr
APR (April)         |         Aproned
MAY                    |         Maybe
JUN (June)           |         Junket
JUL (July)           |         Juleps
AUG (August)     |         Augured
SEP (September) |         Sepulchre
OCT (October)    |        Octaves
NOV(November) |        Novices
DEC (December) |        Decorated

So, as you can see, a word/letter puzzle structure can serve as a legend or table to contain these pairs of definitions or meaning assignments.  These types of assignments or pairs in a table, in software engineering, are called mappings.

Clever Associations (Linkages) between Symbols and Assigned Meanings: An Analogy

Think of it this way. Here is another analogy.  An empty, abstract symbol is like an electrical outlet, a plug socket.  A plug that fits in it has three prongs, the positive prong, the negative prong, and the ground prong.  The fact that it has two prongs that deliver the electricity, and one prong that serves as ground, means that an appliance with the plug of the same shape can be plugged into the socket, and the appliance will work, shaped that same way.

You wouldn't presume that a socket shaped this way from some other country, or a socket that is specialized in some way, can have a regular plug from the United States plug jammed in and have it work well.

You wouldn't presume to try to plug this kind of plug below into that socket above, would you?

This plug fits well with the socket that it is paired with.  Trying to jam it in to a socket that is shaped differently is like square pegs and round holes, literally.  Sometimes you will get lucky, and you will find a socket that works with several kinds of plugs:

But this is not usual or typical.  And you probably would not want your two-year-old around this socket, when it makes it so much easier to stick something in it to get electrocuted.

And so, in summary, a plug that is from China does not typically share the same shape as one from the United States.  While it similarly has prongs, and those prongs deliver electricity and so forth, it is structured/shaped differently.  It is therefore incompatible, and will not plug into that socket.  The shapes of the prongs do not fit in the holes.

Puns and Word Games as Pairings making Value Assignments to Symbols

Likening all of this to abstract symbols, the fact that the value assignment (the meaning assigned) and the symbol (the abstract variable) share the same structure may mean that you can plug the one into the other, and things WORK.  That is, mentally, it is easy to make an association between that symbol and the thing it is assigned to represent with this kind of a linkage.

Associations or linkages like this can be artistic.  They create a clever way of linking the symbol to the thing that it represents.  It is common for people that create lists of symbols with assigned meanings to select symbols that have clever associations to the things that they are made to represent.  In this way, there is sort of a mental association between the symbol and the assigned meaning, even though the symbol is abstract without the key or thing that ties it down to give it a meaning assignment.  This is similar to mnemonics (memory joggers), or lists of symbols that are used to help people remember things.  But this is not necessarily for the purpose of memory recall.  Perhaps it is simply for the purpose of art, humor or rhetorical effect.  Sometimes, if a symbol is a word, then the linkage between the two can be a pun.

Here is an example of this, with analysis:

So you can seen that a pun here above was a clever association between the words grate (as in a cheese grater) and great (very good).  And there is another clever use of the word cheese (meaning a dairy product), and the figurative meaning of the word cheese (meaning silly, stupid or inauthentic), creating a linkage or association between the two.

So, if we use equations to demonstrate this, we get this:

Symbolic word = Meaning
grate (cheese grater) = great (very good)
cheese (dairy product) = cheese (silly)

And in a table, it is represented this way:

Symbolic word  |  Meaning
grate                 |  great
cheese (dairy)   |  cheese (silly)

And here is another example:

Here above is a clever association between the idea of the phrase "I'll pack" and the animal "alpaca."

In an equation, we see this:

symbolic word = meaning
alpaca = I'll pack

Symbolic word | Meaning
alpaca                | I'll pack

Alphabetical Item-Pairings in Egyptain Documents
Now we will review some facts again that we had pointed out in a previous article.  François Gaudard is an Egyptologist and research associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.  He wrote that the Egyptians “designated each letter of the alphabet by a bird name . . .”  He goes on to say:

 This practice dates back as early as the fourth century BC and was probably adopted for mnemonic reasons.  A number of studies have been devoted to the problem of the order in which the letters appear in the Egyptian alphabet. Smith and Tait, followed by Buchberger, first suggested the existence of “a tradition that identified the consonants of the Egyptian language by the names of birds,” and thought that “it may give some indication of the regular order in which the Egyptians remembered their consonants.” (Birds in the Ancient Egyptian and Coptic Alphabets, Oriental Institute Museum Publications 35, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago)

In one of the papyrus manuscripts from the fourth or third century BC, Gaudard describes that it contains alphabetical lists:

In the first list (lines 2–7), “various birds are said to be ‘upon’ various trees or plants” with which they are paired. In each pair, the bird and plant names always begin with the same letter.  For example, in line 2, the first phrase of the list reads . . . “the ibis (was) upon the ebony-tree,” in which the word hb “ibis” is paired with hbyn “ebony-tree,” both beginning with the letter h. In the second list (lines 9–14), “various birds are said to ‘go away’ to various places.” In line 10, for instance, one finds the sentence . . . “the Benu-bird went off to Baby[lon]” in which, according to the same pattern, the word bnw “heron” is paired with Bb[l] “Baby[lon],” both names beginning with the letter b. (ibid.)

This is acrostic-like, where one item of a pair starts with the same letter as the other item in the pair.  He also makes the extremely important observation that:

In some of these papyri, such as P. Berlin 8278 and its fragments, letter names could also be placed at the beginning of a line as a way of classifying different sections of the text by using letters instead of numbers. (ibid.)

The Egyptians used these types of constructs in order to pair items together.  Because of these pairings, Gaudard shows that the Egyptian letters had the names of birds applied to them.  In this way, the names in this way were assigned to them through these types of linkages between the pairs.

Linkage through Metaphor- Shared Theme
“Like metaphor, a pun uses comparison to create cognitive links between two things.” (
“Metaphor and analogy both work by bringing together two concepts from different conceptual domains . . .” (
In a paper that appears in a Canadian publication, Wu Yong of the Southwest University and also Chongqing University of
Education, both in Chongqing, China, writes:
According to the New Oxford English-Chinese Dictionary (2007), the meaning of “compare” is to estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between. It originates from Old French comparer, from Latin comparare, from compar ‘like, equal’, from com- ‘with’ + par ‘equal’; “com-”: with; together; jointly; altogether; “comparison” originates from Middle English, from Old French comparesoun, from Latin comparatio(n-), from comparare ‘to pair, match’; “analogize”: To make a comparison of (something) with something else to assist understanding; “contrast”: To compare in such a way as to emphasize difference. From the above interpretations, we can see that if things are to be compared, they need to be first jointed together or juxtaposed, otherwise, likeness, equal, and difference cannot be found; both “analogize” and “contrast” are born out of “comparison”. (Metaphorical Thinking and Comparison Cognition, Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2014, pp. 24-30, Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture,
From, here is a definition of metaphor:
1 A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable . . .
1.1 A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.
[An example sentence”]
‘the amounts of money being lost by the company were enough to make it a metaphor for an industry that was teetering’ . . .
[And another:]
‘The torso also includes the heart, a metaphor for your vital life force, as well as representing the bonds of love.’
Now, let's apply all this to the Book of Abraham.   With the Book of Abraham, which to the Egyptians was a serious religious exercise, here is an example.  With Facsimile #2, Figure 1 of the Book of Abraham, there is a clever association between the god of Creation (Khnum-Ra), and the first creation (Kolob), through the theme of creation.  This was deliberate, and was an artistic association, even though Khnum-Ra is not literally Kolob.  Nevertheless, as an abstract symbol, Khnum-Ra now serves as a suitable representation of Kolob.  Khnum-Ra becomes a metaphor for Kolob, because of this shared theme between the two.

But, also, without the explanation in English to go along with Figure 1, which provides the pairing, nobody would know that the two are a pair in this context.  Outside of the Facsimile with its Explanation, the symbol Khnum-Ra is not Kolob.  It is just regular old Khnum-Ra.  It was the pairing of the Facsimile with the Explanation that gave it this context.  You can see that the Explanation was a key that provided context, that tied down the symbol to its current application, just like a legend.  The Kolob and Khnum-Ra association is similar to a pun, just like in the alpaca picture, because the theme-sharing provides a conceptual linkage.  Alpaca does not literally mean "I'll pack."  The silly meme with the picture of the alpaca, and the silly explanation gave it context.  The meme created the key, that provided the context, where the alpaca became an abstract symbol, where in this instance it was assigned the meaning "I'll pack," by way of the clever pun.  This assignment for Kolob is metaphor through a shared theme

So, in an equation, we get this:

Non-Literal Symbol = Value Assignment through Metaphor/Shared Theme
Khnum-Ra = Kolob
god of Creation = the First Creation

In a table, we get this:

Non-Literal Symbol | Value Assignment
Khnum-Ra                |     Kolob
god of Creation         |     The First Creation

The clever linkage or association is the pun/theme of creation:

Here are some versions of the Kolob hieroglyphic, but these are abstract instead of literal:


All of these versions of the same character, in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and in the Facsimiles Explanations are equal to this:

But interestingly, even though this heiroglyphic is visually almost identical to the Khnum-Ra hieroglyphs above:

This is actually a heiratic for this hieroglyphic, a figure of a woman;

This is the hieroglyphic determination for "woman" of course.  But it is typically a character that is used with other "text" hieroglyphics.  In the part of the Sensen papyrus it was taken from, was part of the "text."  Here is the location on the papyrus of this character (encircled in red):

Yet, the Kirtland Egyptian Papers associate it with the Khnum heiroglyphs above, a version of which is used in Facsimile #2.  Therefore, the Egyptian that did this was creating a deliberate visual pun between the Khnum-Ra heiroglyph and the "woman" determinative character!  Now, usually LDS Egyptologists insist that we should ignore the characters in the "text" in these columns because they say they have nothing to do with Abrahamic content.  Similarly, they tell us that we should ignore the text that appears to the left of the picture of Abraham on the lion couch, because it is just "text," so they say.  But this is not the way these characters were being used in the non-extant derivative composition with Book of Abraham content paired with these characters.

And so, the pun on creation in this thing goes even further, because Khnum-Ra is the god that presides over childbirth, and a woman, of course, is who has children in childbirth.  There is even more to this pun, but I have examined it in-depth in other articles in this blog.  But anyway, the point is, this is all value assignments, not a direct, literal definition.  Just like January has the letters JAN in common with the word Janet, it is nice when there is a linkage of sorts like this between the symbol and the value assignment that it is made to represent.  This can help the reader notice the clever association.  This way, he knows that January goes with Janet by virtue of the clever fact that they both share the letters JAN at the beginning of the words.

So, in summary, Kolob shares a clever, non literal linkage/pun through the theme of creation.  In "translating" this, Joseph Smith didn't give a literal rendering of a non-literal symbol (Khnum-Ra), or to the "woman" determinative.  Rather, the Spirit gave him the usage of it where he reconstructed/rehydrated an association between the non-litearal symbol of Khnum-Ra and Kolob.  The Spirit didn't tell him what the underlying Egyptological fact was between these symbols.  It is after the fact, long after Joseph Smith's time, that someone knowledgeable about the aspects/properties of the mythology of the Khnum-Ra hieroglyph can see truly what relationship these things have.  He can observe that Joseph Smith knew what the Spirit told him, but now, it is observable from Egyptological knowledge that an Egyptian deliberately paired the two together in a clever way.  Each and every character/hieroglyph in the Sensen Papyrus has similar clever linkages or associations between the symbol and the value assignments/meanings that Joseph Smith paired them with, in either the Facsimile Explanations or in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.  It is not a literal translation of each character that was the point.  It was the transmission of these ancient pairings into modern speech that was the point, so that modern readers could view the word/letter game that was going on in the derivative composition.  Therefore, the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and the Facsimile Explanations, both stand as modern-day translations of this word game/letter puzzle.  Just like how the English translations of the Acrostics in the Psalms in the Old Testament do not manifest the underlying word-game very clearly, the same is so with Joseph Smith's English Translation.  It takes a bit of reverse-engineering to show the underlying relationships between the Hieroglyphs and Joseph Smith's explanations.