Acrostics are a data hiding technique that has been in use for centuries. The latest example is contained in a letter of resignation written by a US committee last week.

All 17 members of Donald Trump’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) have resigned in response to the controversial remarks Donald Trump made earlier this week about a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Beforehand, several business leaders had resigned from persidential advisory groups for the same reason.


Acrostic in the letter of resignation

Why do I write about this issue on a crypto history blog? It’s because in the letter of resignation of the PCAH a short message is hidden (thanks to John Haas for the hint). The first letters of each of the five paragraphs combine to spell out RESIST. This word has become associated with protest against the Trump administration. The following picture shows the letter of resignation with the first characters of each paragraph marked:


The coding method used by the committee is known as “acrostic”. Wikipedia defines an acrostic as “a poem (or other form of writing) in which the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text) spells out a word, message or the alphabet.” Acrostics are a special case of null ciphers and belong to the field of steganography.


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More acrostics

As mentioned before on this blog, my new (German) book on the history of steganography, Versteckte Botschaften, will be published by the end of this month.


For centuries, acrostics have been a very popular data hiding technique. My book contains dozens of examples. One of the most famous is the following gravestone located in Montreal, Canada:


Other notable acrostics mentioned in my book were created by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the PETA (American animal rights organization), Edgar Allan Poe, WW2 soldiers, and spies – just to name a few. The lyrics of the Dutch national anthem contains an acrostic, too.

Of course, there are many more acrostics than I could include in my book. Here’s one I found on Wikimedia (written by Nathaniel Dearborn in 1850):


The following is an acrostic in an advertisement for Eastern German car Trabant:


Another potential acrostic was discussed in the British press in 2001, when soccer club Manchester United lost to the teams of Bolton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea. The first letters of these clubs combine to spell out BLANC, which is the surname of then United player Laurent Blanc. Was this just a coincidence or a steganographic hint given by the god of football? If you have an answer or if you know other nice acrostics please leave a comment.

Further reading: Tony Gaffney’s starlight steganogram


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Kommentare (11)

  1. #1 Abhishek Ramchandran
    21. August 2017


  2. #2 Thomas
    21. August 2017

    An early example is the interpretation of the Greek word “ichthys” as an acrostic given in Augustine’s City of God (Book 18, Chap. 23):
    “But if you join the initial letters of these five Greek words, ᾽Ιησοῦς Χριστος Θεοῦ υἰὸς σωτήρ, which mean, ‘Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour,” they will make the word ἰχδὺς, that is, “fish,” in which word Christ is mystically understood, because He was able to live, that is, to exist, without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depth of waters.’

  3. #3 Jerry McCarthy
    England, Europa
    22. August 2017

    #2. Actually, that is not quite perfect. The first letter of the third word is “Θ”, a theta. The third letter of “ἰχδὺς” is unfortunately a delta. Nahe, aber keine Zigarre 🙂

  4. #4 Bote17
    22. August 2017

    Klaus Schmeh,
    fuck you, could it be a coincidence?

  5. #5 Thomas
    22. August 2017

    @Jerry McCarthy
    An ichthys-typo in Philip Schaff’s English edition. What a shame! 🙂 Hence Saint Augustine was perfect.

  6. #6 Karsten
    22. August 2017

    Looks like this is a really nice area of cryptography/steganography.
    Acrostics were new to me, well at lest that they are named so.
    Up to now I haven’t seen any of these examples in real world.
    So I really have to keep my eyes open for more of these!
    Is there any example where this was used by real agents?
    Really good to know that there is a book on this topic.
    Or should I better buy it as an e-book?
    Can’t really decide on that …
    Keep up the good work with blooging on

  7. #7 Klaus Schmeh
    22. August 2017

    >Is there any example where
    >this was used by real agents?
    Yes, there’s one example described in my book. I took it from this censorship manual (illustration 18):

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    22. August 2017

    >fuck you, could it be a coincidence?
    I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s pretty unlikely that such a letter sequence is generated unintentionally.

  9. #9 Aginor
    25. August 2017

    Not sure if this was disccussed here already, but I noticed another interesting example for this in a TV series (“Blindspot”):

    The english episode titles are just anagrams for words forming a secret message, but in the second half of the second season that suddenly changes, and that’s where the acrostics come into play:

    The episode titles are palindromes, and the middle letters of all of them together constitute another hidden message. Very cool.

    This is commonly known it seems but I noticed it myself just now because I watched the show lately.

    Also LOL @Karsten (comment #6), good job! 🙂

  10. #10 Marc
    25. August 2017

    The acrostics in Blindspot : “KURT WELLER SOS”
    Very interesting i didn’t even know. I wonder, if Klaus has read comment #6 carefully.

  11. #11 Jerry McCarthy
    England, Europa
    25. August 2017


    Ich hatte! 🙂