The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’thing is your crocodile?”: August 2022

An illustration of a bare-chested man with long hair, letters of the alphabet on his face, chest, and extended left arm.

In this month’s Crocodile Mystery, the question is simple, but the image and its utility are not. What is the purpose of this picture? Come back next week when all will be revealed!


    • No, apparently the author of Sermo Mirabilis envisioned it as more of a secret language that could be used to ‘impart [your] mind to [your] Friend in any Language, English, Latin, French, Dutch, &c. tho never so deep and dangerous a Secret, without the least Noise, Word or Voice; and without the Knowledge of any in Company.’
      … that is until someone happens to notice you frantically pointing at various body parts in order to impart your deep and dangerous Secret, at which point you’d better have a good excuse!

  • Well, those are acupressure (and acupuncture) points, and I can’t imagine those have changed much over the centuries. Points for suffering the “arrows of outrageous fortune” maybe??

  • The corporal alphabet, indicating the parts of a body – “N” for nose; “C” for cheek, “L” for lips, etc.

  • It’s an illustration of a form of sign language that is supposed to be particularly intuitive, because all consonants are represented by body parts that begin with that particular letter: B for brow, I for eye, R for ribs, V for vein (I suppose it would have been more intuitive to people used to bloodletting?), W for wrist and so on. I’m not entirely sure if that explanation will work equally well for Z and Y, but you can’t have everything…

  • Some kind of ‘sign language’, in which different points of the body are associated with letters of the alphabet; by pointing at the appropriate part you can spell out words.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)