It’s Cipher, Not Cypher

Let’s set the record straight.

Our studio is named “Cipher Prime”, not “Cypher Prime”. In interviews and reviews (and even in customer support emails), people frequently refer to us as “cypher prime,” perhaps mistakenly believing that we are incorrectly spelling in our own name. Let’s take a closer look at these two spelling variants to explain why we chose cipher prime over cypher prime.

What is a Cipher/Cypher?

The term “cipher” is most commonly used in cryptography. This versatile term can refer to the acts of encoding or decoding a secret message, or to the secret message itself.

not cypher prime

Where did the variants come from?

The word we know today as cipher originated in the late 14th century from the Arabic word sifr, meaning “zero.” At this point in the English language (Middle English) the spellings of words were not yet explicitly defined, and writers commonly substituted i‘s for y‘s at will, hence the emergence of cypher as a variant for cipher.

However, after the Great Vowel shift and the standardization of spelling in the 15th and 16th centuries, many of the y’s that denoted “eye” sounds in English were replaced by i’s–hence the change of “wyf” to “wife,” and “cypher” to “cipher.”

not-cypher-prime-great-vowel-shift

Even so, cypher is still considered a valid variant of cipher in many orthographic circles today. Cypher is most popular in England, where it first emerged.

Why We Chose Cipher

Because we’re American, and because cipher is by far the most commonly used spelling, and because we think “cypher” looks kind of silly.

4 replies
  1. thoran says:

    Have you taken a look at the following?…

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=cipher%2Ccypher&year_start=1700&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=50&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Ccipher%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ccypher%3B%2Cc0

    Compare with the same search using capitalised terms…

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Cipher%2CCypher&year_start=1700&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=50&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CCipher%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CCypher%3B%2Cc0

    And here’s the same search again with capitalisation invariant…

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Cipher%2CCypher&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1700&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=50&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2CCipher%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bcipher%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BCipher%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BCIPHER%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2CCypher%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bcypher%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BCypher%3B%2Cc0

    Do you believe that all of the uses of cypher prior to the 19th Century are due only to it’s use in heraldry or older meanings such as zero or any number? Regardless, there is little use of cipher or Cipher until the 19th Century, so presumably a goodly proportion of those were intended to mean the cryptographic sense of the word.

    The actual texts would need to be consulted in order to be more sure of this however.

    Additionally, did the great vowel shift occur later than you suggest?

    Regardless, you get to determine the name of your company. Anything other than what you dictate is just sloppy.

    Reply
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