Scribal Errors, Furniture Edition

A few weeks ago I found myself in a furniture store with my wife when we ran across this:

Huh, what's that meant to say?

Recognizing the seal and the garter (as the royal coat of arms of the UK and the garter from the chivalric Order of the Garter, which I only know because of the notes to Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight), I puzzled for a bit over the “HOVI SOIT QOI MAL YPE HSE” before I fully recognized that yes, in fact, it was meant to be a rendering of the motto of the Order of the Garter. Of course, I went through the steps to get to the errors, ‘V’ for ‘N’, ‘O’ for ‘U’, faulty separation in ‘YPE HSE’ for ‘Y PENSE’ in which is also seen ‘H’ for ‘N’. All of which are pretty feasible to account for individually. But it’s quite amazing to see such a high rate of error in such a short amount of text.

Perhaps the furniture artist was working from an image in which the words were particularly difficult to read, I thought. But then we came across the same model chair a bit further down the warehouse:

Oh, that's what it's supposed to say!

Interestingly, the artist of the second chair provides a much more accurate transcription, but the spacing and the heights of the letters is far less consistent. Assuming the two artists worked from the same image, I think a natural preconception would be that the more careful artist (in terms of layout and spacing) would likely be the better scribe. But clearly this is not the case. It looks like an example which shows that working fluently, that is quickly, naturally but not hastily produces more accurate copying (assuming that you grant that the work on the second chair looks like is was executed more quickly as evidenced by less detail, for example, in the Irish harp). Or perhaps, the two artists worked from reproductions of the image that varied in quality? Given the number of errors should we assume something in the exemplar to explain their frequency?

Whatever the reason it passed for humor in these parts!


  1. Don’t know if you read this but I stumbled upon this post when googling “HOVI SOIT QOI MAL YPE HSE”. I’m sitting in a Swedish café, looking at the very same chair, wondering what the text meant (and why it was spelled so weird, I do have some knowledge of languages). So I start reading your post, going “ahaaa”, and then get to the part about the other chair with the correct spelling. I look to my right, where there’s another chair, and can you imagine, it had the correct spelling! Just had to write this down cause I found it quite funny.

  2. That’s pretty good. I guess the Nordic market is all sourced from the same supplier. Thanks for that!