Wordprints or Forensic Linguistics

How do you catch a twisted genius who aspires to warn our technological age of the possible problems of technology for humanity—who builds untraceable bombs and delivers them to random targets, who leaves false clues to throw off authorities, who lives like a recluse in the mountains of Montana and tells no one of his secret crimes?

How do you show critics of the Book of Mormon that the Book of Mormon is really scripture and a translation of an ancient text and not the product of Joseph Smith Jr., any of his colleagues, or taken from fiction books of his time? 

One answer of many is Wordprints or Forensic Linguistics.

In 1982, Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher, Brigham Young University professors of statistics, presented the first comprehensive statistical wordprint study of the Book of Mormon. Using computerized text and powerful statistical techniques, they were able to establish that the different sections of the Book of Mormon were authored by different people and that none was authored by Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, or any other 19th-century candidates put forth by Book of Mormon critics.

Following their work, applied physicist John L. Hilton and five of his fellow scientists in the Bay Area of California (three of them non-members of the Latter-day Saint church) repeated that study using a wholly different and more conservative form of wordprinting analysis. Again, different authors were detected other than those put forward by critics, and none corresponded to the 19th-century candidates. Later, in retirement as an adjunct professor of statistics at BYU, Hilton used his techniques to identify anonymous writings of the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes to show which of Francis Bacon’s works were authored chiefly by Bacon’s staff of secretaries. 

The techniques developed by Larsen, Wrencher, Hilton, Reynolds, and others used to identify authors of articles became important in the arrest of the Unabomber when, in collaboration with the FBI, the same wordprint techniques were used to identify possible authors of the Unabomber’s Manifesto.

In 1979, an FBI-led task force that included the ATF and U.S. Postal Inspection Service was formed to investigate the “UNABOM” case, code-named for the UNiversity and Airline BOMbing targets involved. The task force would grow to more than 150 full-time investigators, analysts, and others. In search of clues, the team made every possible forensic examination of recovered bomb components and studied the lives of victims in minute detail. These efforts proved of little use in identifying the bomber, who took pains to leave no forensic evidence, building his bombs essentially from “scrap” materials available almost anywhere. And the victims, investigators later learned, were chosen randomly from library research.

Many who have heard of the Unabomber and seen the famous composite sketch of his hooded face still remain unaware of the central role that language played in the elusive Unabomber’s eventual capture.

Strange to think that a handful of mere words, short of a blatant confession, could end up pointing the finger at unknown perpetrators of a crime. But, like DNA, words and the ways we use language can potentially reveal features of ourselves, our intentions, and our actions, left in our writing without our being aware of it.

Stranger to think that because of wordprint analysis on the Book of Mormon a serious criminal was apprehended.

It’s thanks to the quirky use of idioms, oddly-placed punctuation, vocal tics, and certain other idiolectal, dialectal and stylistic markers, that anonymous speakers and authors have often been identified. Linguistic evidence or wordprints left behind in wire taps, ransom notes, texts, tweets, and emails, has sometimes led to major breakthroughs and even the resolution of many famous cases.

One phrase in the Unabomber’s Manifesto “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too,” instead of the usual form, which is “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” alerted those looking for the Unabomber. This form of the phrase, discovered by FBI investigator James Fitzgerald said, “is actually a traditionally middle English way of using the term. He technically had it right. It was one of the big clues that allowed investigators to make the rest of the comparison and submit a report to the judge who signed off on a search warrant.”

Theodore Kaczynski

The big break in the case came in 1995. The Unabomber sent a 35,000 word manifesto “Industrial Society and Its Future” claiming to explain his motives and views of the ills of modern society. After much debate about the wisdom of “giving in to terrorists,” FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno approved the task force’s recommendation to publish the essay in hopes that a reader could identify the author. After the manifesto appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times, thousands of people suggested possible suspects but it was Kaczynski’s sister-in-law (who he’d never met), Linda Patrik, who put two and two together and convinced her husband David Kaczynski to review the published manifesto. He immediately recognized unique phrases, idioms, and oddly familiar ideas that were often used by his brother, such as the unusual term “cool-headed logicians.” David described his troubled brother Ted, who had grown up in Chicago, taught at the University of California at Berkeley (where two of the bombs had been placed), then lived for a time in Salt Lake City before settling permanently into the primitive 10’ x 14’ cabin that the brothers had constructed near Lincoln, Montana. This was the crucial start of the FBI’s interest in Ted Kaczynski, but certainly not the end.

The common sense linguistic intuition that led David Kaczynski to identify his brother as the Unabomber through the written word was the spark, but needed to be reinforced by more rigorous methods. The linguistic analysis used to identify writers of the Book of Mormon was done by one of the FBI profilers working on the case, James Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald used a simple computational method looking at word frequencies, spelling variants and the like to build up a linguistic profile in an attempt to compare and match up the authors. For example, similarities included both authors using “analyse” for “analyze,” “licence” for “license,” “wilfully” instead of “willfully,” “instalment” instead of “installment,” etc.

David Kaczynski provided letters and documents written by his brother and the detailed linguistic analysis or wordprints determined that the author of those papers and the manifesto were almost certainly the same. When combined with facts gleaned from the bombings and Kaczynski’s life, that analysis provided the basis for a search warrant. 

Cabin of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, in the woods of Montana, where he was arrested on April 3, 1996.

On April 3, 1996, investigators arrested Kaczynski and combed his cabin. There, they found a wealth of bomb components; 40,000 handwritten journal pages that included bomb-making experiments and descriptions of Unabomber crimes; and one live bomb, ready for mailing.

Kaczynski’s reign of terror was over. His new home, following his guilty plea in January 1998: an isolated cell in a “Supermax” prison in Colorado. 

The link between Ted Kaczynski and the Unabomber could very well have been missed based on the expert opinion available, without help from David Kaczynski’s knowledge of his brother’s speech patterns and linguistic analysis learned from those searching the Book of Mormon. Law enforcement’s lack of experience with forensic linguistics meant that many of the academic experts called in to consult had no training in linguistics.

For more information on the Book of Mormon and wordprints here are a couple of links:



John Hilton – Wordprints


Chiastic structures have been known for about two centuries. According to Thomas B. Clarke “Several European publications in the 1700’s and 1800’s discussed the symmetric arrangement of Scripture, the most notable being John Jebb and Thomas Boys.  However, it was not until the 1920’s that Nils Lund published articles about the chiasmus in the United States.  

Below is a short video on how chiastic structure was discovered by John ‘Jack’ Welch in the Book of Mormon, while on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on August 16, 1967.

The following is a comment from a Masters of Divinity student following his viewing of the above video.

“Thank you so much for this video! I’m a masters of Divinity student, becoming a hospital Chaplain. I have to study and create just ONE chiasmus. We study just ONE for 8 weeks! Just this alone has brought my mind back to the Book of Mormon and how the hundreds of Herbrewisms (chiasmuses, parallelisms, etc) make it impossible for a modern, English speaking person to know all the intricate ins and outs of the Hebrew way of writing…so much so, that within a few short months produced a book with hundreds of these!”

This student has pointed out the difficulty in writing this literary structure. As he mentions, there are hundreds of these in the Book of Mormon, which he points out take a great amount of time to produce just one. The man who gave us the Book of Mormon produced it in approximately 65 days of writing amidst much conflict in his life. If he wrote this book personally, he would have had to be some sort of genius, or would have had to have known how to write Chiastic literary structures before they had even been discovered. This is only one of many literary forms found in the Book of Mormon. However, Joseph Smith was no literary genius, had but a grade 3 or 4 education, and certainly did not know about Chiasmus. Perhaps only his explanation of an angel and a record on metal plates can explain it.

The following is the first chiastic structure discovered by John Welch. This scripture is found in Mosiah 5:10-12 in the Book of Mormon.

In 1972 an explanation by John Welch about Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon was published in the New Era, the magazine for members in 1972 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I encourage you to read this article as it is highly informative. The link below will take you to that article.

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

Why are Christians, Christian?

These are the answers people give as to why they are Christian.

  1. “I grew up in the church, my parents raised me as a Christian”
  2. “I have had a spiritual experience(s) that convinced me to be a Christian”
  3. “I have studied the scriptures and other evidence and have concluded by reason that Christianity is the correct religion”
  4. “I grew up in the church and have had some spiritual experiences that convince me that it is true.”
  5. “I was changed by some experiences I have had. I was a drunk/addict/immoral and Jesus saved me”
  6. “I have studied evidence on my own for and against Christianity as well as the scriptures, and have come to the conclusion that Christianity is the true religion. I then asked God in faith if my conclusions were correct. Upon receiving a witness from the Spirit that my conclusions were correct, I became a Christian.”

Study and Faith

Whatever religion you are, if all you can say is that I am a Christian because I grew up in the Christian faith, your roots are very shallow. When there are challenges to your religion by those with other convictions, you will probably abandon your faith. Many people do this every year.

This is true also of those who say they have had a spiritual experience. Who’s to say your spirtual experience was nothing more than indigestion, or an emotional feeling brought on by a very motivating speaker or story.

There are those who say they are converted to the historical Jesus. They don’t believe the miracles He performed, and undoubtedly not the miracle of resurrection. What they have is a conviction that Jesus was a good man, and even Atheists are willing to follow a man that ‘inspires’ them to be good and do good.

Then there are those who have had a conversion because they feel they have been changed because they have made an about face after being in the gutter of life.

The only people truly converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are those who have sincerely searched the evidence available and have made a conscious effort to obtain a witness from the Holy Ghost – after they have concluded that it is possible or even probable that Jesus is the Christ. With that conviction, they then seek by faith to obtain a witness. This is the kind of knowledge the likes of which Peter received.

Peter had watched and learned for a period of time and was convinced from the evidence of Jesus’ life that he was the Christ. But Peter had gone further. After Jesus had asked the apostles “whom do ye say that I am”, Peter declared, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus told Peter and the rest of the apostles that Peter knew Jesus was the Christ because God, the Father had given him a witness by the Holy Ghost. It was not indigestion, nor was it an emotional high brought on by another human being. It was a witness from God, the Father.

We are dual beings. We have both a physical body and a spiritual body and I think God expects us to use both the physical mind to study things out and our spiritual mind to receive a witness from the Spirit.

The purpose of this blog is to provide you with opportunities to learn by study and by faith why you should be a Christian.