Clews in Z's misspellings? Message Board: General Zodiac Discussion: Clews in Z's misspellings?

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Thursday, January 24, 2002 - 12:07 pm:

There is a bewildering number of pages (18, actually) where "clew" is mentioned, but none really seem to focus on the misspelling itself (or any other, for that matter); so, a new thread to specifically discuss such things...

I just purchased a 1976 Reader's Digest book, Strange Stories, Amazing Facts (actually, my second copy, the first is buried somewhere in storage...). I came across a section entitled "Words! Words! Words! (and the remarkable stories behind them), where, lo and behold, I found a reference to the word "clue" on page 527. It went on to say...

Clue.The hero Theseus used a ball of thread to find his way out of the labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur of Crete in the old Greek legend. And after the story was told in medieval England--where the word for a ball of thread was "clew" (emphasis mine) --a guide to the solution of any problem became known as a "clew" or "clue."

It seems that "clew" was actually once a proper spelling for "clue," and thus Z's spelling is therefore not incorrect. Like everyone else, I had assumed that "clew" was simply a misspelling, so I decided to look it up in the dictionary (The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Language):

clew 1. n. (naut.) the lower corner of a square sail, or the after lower corner of a fore-and-aft sail, or the loop and thimbles at the sail's corner (pl.) the small cords suspending a hammock 2. v.t. to clew up to haul (a sail) by means of clew lines to the mast, ready for furling [Old English cleowen, cliwen]

clew *CLUE

clew line one of the ropes by which a sail is hauled up to its yard for furling

Hmm... it seems that "clew" is a proper word after all and has more than one meaning, derived from two different Old English words. And one of them is a nautical term, which, assuming that "clews" wasn't a misspelling, might have been a subtle (or subconscious) hint to Z's possible naval background.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Thursday, January 24, 2002 - 12:42 pm:

All this tells me that Zodiac had an excellent understanding of linguistics, history and most probably classical literature.

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Thursday, January 24, 2002 - 03:50 pm:

Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe he just liked trivia and read a lot. But the point is, "clew" is not a misspelling, and it also happens to be a nautical term.

By Peter H (Peter_H) ( - on Friday, January 25, 2002 - 10:13 am:

Perhaps Z's ultmate subtlety lies in the notion that the term "fake clews" is itself a fake clue. Pretty effective, too, for it leads Douglas to conclude that "Zodiac had an excellent understanding of linguistics, history and most probably classical literature". Really. Did Zodiac bring all that intellectual achievement to bear on this one little word? I agree with EdN on that point: it may show something, but not education. I wouldn't put too much stock in ancient spellings. There was no such thing as proper spelling -- as we understand it today -- untill the early 1800s when dictionaries emerged. Anything phonetically accurate was an acceptable form. Having said that, I have to disagree with EdN's remark that "clew" is not a misspelling because it is either an alternative spelling or a nautical term. Such anachronistic spellings are not considered correct, in this case far more likely either a deliberate or unintentional misspelling. Maybe not, but if not a misspelling, it was either a misstatement, an instance of aphasia, or Z meant he was planting counterfeit marine hardware about the cab. I pick none of the above. It was a misspelling. Probably intentional.

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Saturday, January 26, 2002 - 12:53 am:

Peter: I agree that it was intentional. However, was it that Z thought to himself, "I should misspell a word at this point, which one should I pick and how will I misspell it? Hey, how about 'clue' and spell it 'clew' instead? That'll keep the blue pigs guessing about my educational level..." or did he subconsciously choose that spelling because of a possible naval background?

I don't for a minute believe that Z carefully chose each word and constructed letters around "invisible geometry" (one of Penn's BS trips), or that he planted "clews" such as grouping the dots below the exclamation points of the Pen card into three clusters of 2, 3 and 1 such that, when viewed upside down, they would read 1, 3, 2, that is, Highway 132, where he would one day strike or perhaps owned property by (something Rodelli actually suggested a couple of years back, as I recall). Thus, I don't believe that Z consciously chose to misspell certain words in certain ways to give subtle hints about himself. Quite the contrary, perhaps Z's misspellings, intentional though they were, might have been subconsciously chosen to communicate something about himself.

For instance, it has long been opined that Z had some sort of naval affiliation. Perhaps when he intentionally misspelled "clue" as "clew," it was a subconscious choice that reflected something about his background. Maybe not the Navy, but maybe he owned a boat that had lots of clews. What I'm getting at is that since graphology can tell us much about a person, perhaps certain of his misspellings can too.

In any case, "clew," whether a randomly chosen misspelling for "clue" or not, is still a proper word.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Saturday, January 26, 2002 - 07:20 am:

Maybe he read a lot of British literature. Joseph Conrad, for example.

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Saturday, January 26, 2002 - 08:42 pm:

Maybe he did. With Z, it's impossible to be certain...

By Esau (Esau) ( - on Sunday, January 27, 2002 - 12:11 am:

If I decided to write a letter and wanted to purposely misspell words and chose to misspell the word "clue" I would probably spell it as "clew". The only other way that I think it can be misspelled and still sound like "clue" is to spell it as "cloo". Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar........

By Kevin (Kevinrm) ( - on Sunday, January 27, 2002 - 10:28 pm:

Having spent time in the Navy, I was always curious as to what exactly Allen's rating (job) was while he was in. According to Tom, he was a "Sailmaker". That rating no longer existed when I was in. So, one one thing that a "sailmaker" would be familiar with the term "clew"?

By Tom Voigt (Tom_Voigt) ( - on Sunday, January 27, 2002 - 10:44 pm:

The author of that yellow Zodiac book came up with the "sail maker" claim.

According to Allen, he was "a third-class radarman and a painter, I did a whole lot of painting on a refrigerator ship, which doesn't have a whole lot to do with cryptography!"

By Esau (Esau) ( - on Monday, January 28, 2002 - 12:36 am:

If Allen really was in the Navy and painted on a refrigerator ship he must have been an "Undesignated Striker" (also known as "Deck Ape") meaning he had no rating. Seamen with no ratings do all of the grunt work on ships such as painting, chipping paint, cleaning, etc. 3rd Class Radarmen don't spend a whole lot of time painting. In fact, I would say it would be rare for a Radarman regardless of rate to even touch a paint brush. If he became a 3rd Class Radarman later he would have had to be a Radarman Striker (apprentice) on a ship until he was recommended for and accepted to be placed in the "A School" for Radarmen. Then he would have had to gone on to "A School" to become a Radarman. Not until then would he be elligible to be a 3rd Class Radarman. It's not very likely that he could do all of this in a 4 year hitch. If he was in the Navy how long was he in?

By Bruce Monson (Bruce_Monson) ( - on Tuesday, April 02, 2002 - 11:29 pm:

Ed N wrote: For instance, it has long been opined that Z had some sort of naval affiliation. Perhaps when he intentionally misspelled "clue" as "clew," it was a subconscious choice that reflected something about his background. Maybe not the Navy, but maybe he owned a boat that had lots of clews. What I'm getting at is that since graphology can tell us much about a person, perhaps certain of his misspellings can too.

In any case, "clew," whether a randomly chosen misspelling for "clue" or not, is still a proper word.


Ed, you may be right here, but if Z was using a copy of the 1966 edition of _The Readers Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary_ as a reference source, then "clew" is in fact a CORRECT alternative spelling for "clue"! Here is the citation (p.254):


It also cites the nautical meaning, as well as hammock cords, a ball of yarn, and a ball of thread that guides through a maze.

It's also interesting to note that this Reader's Digest dictionary also has sections devoted to "signs and symbols" and "The Story of Writing" both of which have some Z-like cryptographic symbols in them; the latter of which even cites the greek word for "I killed" (apEktona) (p.1848) Although this transliteration is not quite accurate (it would be better transliterated as "apokteino"), but Z wouldn't have to know that.

What struck me when flipping through the book was that this word in Greek letters has a similar look to the My Name Is___ cipher, which has eight clear text characters (excluding the cipher symbols they are A,E,N,K,M,N,A,M), and this Greek word also has five of the eight transliterated letters--A,A,E,K,N. (Hey what do you know, we still get KANE!--just kidding Tom!) Most likely coincidental, but still the words "I killed" make it interesting none the less.


Bruce Monson

By VSCANTU (Vscantu) ( - on Monday, November 18, 2002 - 09:37 am:

Has anyone thought to try to analyze ZODIAC's misspelling of the word "FRONT" in his many letters? I think he was 'front-ing' for something else. He used the spelling "frunt" for the correct word "front" in at least 3 of his letters. Odd, huh? Does anyone think this has any significance?

By Warren (Warren) ( - on Monday, November 18, 2002 - 02:54 pm:

Vscantu - Good observation. I think it is a schoolchild's spelling. I had a grade school friend who spelled it that way often. ALA the teacher/observer?

By Sandy (Sandy) ( - on Thursday, November 21, 2002 - 09:53 am:

Vscantu,Do you think that if the z had some brain damage this could cause the problem with his spelling? Some times he would make a boo-boo then would spell it correctly later. It is as if his memory is affected.I have had the very same problem from a car accident.

By Ed N. (Ed_N) ( - on Tuesday, February 11, 2003 - 09:24 pm:

I didn't know this until recently, but "Clews" is also a surname. Is it possible that Z actually gave us his name by using an apparent "misspelling?"

By Sandy (Sandy) ( - on Wednesday, February 12, 2003 - 12:20 pm:

Ed,Maybe use those letters Like: L-C Wes Zodiac?

By Bookworm (Bookworm) ( - on Saturday, February 15, 2003 - 06:05 am:

Ed and Sandy,

On The History Channel documentary I saw the word "clews" used in a newspaper article about the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago. I didn't catch the name of the paper.

Incidentally Capone used "fake" cops for the killing. The neighbors saw these cops walk two other of Capone's men out at gun point, like they were making an arrest, when it was actually a get away.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Saturday, February 15, 2003 - 08:01 am:

One of the most telling of Zodiac's patterns of misspelling is his failure to drop the "e" when adding "ing" in words such as "haveing," or "waveing." That, in my opinion, gives his game completely away. Anyone capable of Zodiac's vocabulary and syntax isn't going to make that mistake unless it's done deliberately.

By Howard Davis (Howard) ( - on Monday, February 17, 2003 - 12:31 am:

All anti detection and disguise books in the 1960s,instructed one to spell words correctly in one place and then misspell them in another place ,so that if they were ever brought in for questioning and asked to give handwritng samples, they could engage in this spelling game of deception thus,possibly,throwing off the authorities in their analysis of the suspects spelling traits.This included other kinds of linguistic expressions too.
You are told,in these books, to 'hide' your education and appear much more ignorant of proper spelling and grammar,etc., than you actually ware...there I goe afgain-and I ain't hidin' nothing,er something ether!

By Bookworm (Bookworm) ( - on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 - 07:18 pm:


Well then, I would spell school - Scewl.

By Howard Davis (Howard) ( - on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 - 09:42 pm:

I was simply relating what the books staytid!