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According to a book I am reading, Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier, the ISO 7498-2 standard uses the terms “encipher” instead of "encrypt" and “decipher” instead of "decrypt" because some cultures find the terms “encrypt” and “decrypt” offensive, as they refer to dead bodies.

I am curious to know which cultures exactly the author is talking about as I can not find information about the topic online.

Moreover, when you search for ISO 7489-2 on Google, the first link you get is this one: https://www.iso.org/standard/14256.html, a downloadable document but its not for free, you have to pay and I don't know why the standard is for sale.

Is there concrete evidence that in cryptography the standard words to use are "encipher" and "decipher" and that we do not use "encrypt" or "decrypt" because they are offensive words?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, one common meaning of "crypt" is "place for dead bodies"; I wouldn't know which culture the standard has in mind (hence this is not answering the question you asked), but I wouldn't think it that outrageous that some people would find the word "crypt" distasteful. BTW: both usages are ultimately derived from the same Greek root kryptos == hidden. $\endgroup$ – poncho Nov 13 '20 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Clicking preview gives enough of the standard to see that it uses "encipherment" and "decipherment", and lists "encryption" and "decryption" as alternatives. $\endgroup$ – fgrieu Nov 13 '20 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ @poncho I have been researching more on this topic. It has led me to a cryptologist called Ralph Merkel. Interestingly he is researching into cryonics, a field for preserving dead people's brains for future resurrection. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Merkle $\endgroup$ – GilbertS Nov 14 '20 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ I guess public key encryption is then entombing a dead body in a crypt where the key hangs beside the door. $\endgroup$ – Maeher Nov 14 '20 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ For your other question, standards are generally not free. An organization that needs it will buy it. For many use cases, using a draft (which are often released for free) is sufficient. $\endgroup$ – Aman Grewal Nov 14 '20 at 13:48
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I've seen encipher, encrypt, and encode for encryption. Encode is the worst since we have text encoding. The below definitions from Google dictionary that uses Oxford Languages.

  • encipher: convert (a message or piece of text) into a coded form; encrypt.

    Merriam Webster gives the date of the first usage of encipher as 1577.

enter image description here


  • encrypt: convert (information or data) into a cipher or code, especially to prevent unauthorized access.

    Encrypt formed from English en + Greek kruptos is originally from the USA around 1950s.

    Merriam Webster gives the date of the first usage of encrypt as 1944.

enter image description here


The above chart doesn't compare the actual values, Google's ngram can handle this

enter image description here

  • Encode: convert into a coded form. ( Please don't use this for encryption)

enter image description here

Is there concrete evidence that in cryptography the standard words to use are "encipher" and "decipher" and that we do not use "encrypt" or "decrypt" because they are offensive words?

I've searched and I couldn't find, however, if you consider usage statistics, the encipher should be increasing over time instead of decreasing. The academicians visit various countries around the world and meeting in the conferences, and if it is an offensive word in some language we have already heard about that a lot from them. For example, take Eve, although it is an abbreviation for an eavesdropper, it is used for a bad actor can be considered an offensive usage since the religious Adam and Eve but still in use. I know some people don't use Eve anymore.

Personally, I read a lot of text using encipher, however, that usage is decreasing. And I've seen some texts that use encoding for encryption, I hope that will fade away.

And the Google fight Encipher vs Encrypt : Encipher 1 : Encrypt 200


Is there concrete evidence that in cryptography the standard words to use are "encipher" and "decipher" and that we do not use "encrypt" or "decrypt" because they are offensive words?

Actually, I have seen the reverse of this. There is a website named word safety ( Warning no https) show some -not exact- potential unwanted meaning for the word encipher in Russian, I would not list here.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've checked it, plus all the other related words. What the site does is pick out a substring of the word like her and give an obscene translation for that. I've used google translate from english to russian and viceversa on encipher, decipher, encrypt, decrypt and I didnt get any alarm. $\endgroup$ – GilbertS Nov 16 '20 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @GilbertS site doesn't use Russian chars. That is the problem. Yes, they picked a substring, and that is very important, too. (Deleted the link part) $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Nov 16 '20 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ So you're saying that if we can write it using Russian alphabet we can get a hit? $\endgroup$ – GilbertS Nov 16 '20 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ I had the same problem as you, then I have used the reverse, used the English word to find the Russian word. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Nov 16 '20 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ How about if we did a search for a relationship between crypt and tomb. Can we find a language where they mean the same thing $\endgroup$ – GilbertS Nov 17 '20 at 14:18

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