Scroll origins

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Unidentified scrolls can have any one of many labels. In Hack 1.0, these labels are initially paired with the scroll types in a way that seems to be meaningful.[1] It is often claimed that Hack 1.0 uses a fixed label for each scroll type, but in fact it does shuffle the labels.[2]

The various labels through NetHack 3.6.0, and their meanings, are:

ANDOVA BEGARIN 
Unknown meaning. In Hack, this scroll was originally always the scroll of fire. Possibly "End Of A Beginning"
DAIYEN FOOELS 
"Dying fools". Originally scroll of enchant weapon.
DUAM XNAHT 
"Thanx Maud" spelled backwards. Originally scroll of amnesia.
ELAM EBOW 
Unknown meaning. Originally scroll of magic mapping. When looked at backwards, it sounds close to "woe be male"; this could be a reference to men not liking to ask for directions.
ELBIB YLOH 
"Holy Bible" spelled backwards. Originally scroll of genocide.
FOOBIE BLETCH
Unknown meaning. Possibly Jargon 'foo', ('bar'?), 'bletch'. In Hack 1.0, this is initially a spare label.
GARVEN DEH
Unknown meaning. In Hack 1.0, this is initially a spare label.
HACKEM MUCHE 
"Hack 'em much". Originally scroll of damage weapon; the scroll of charging now occupies this slot.
JUYED AWK YACC 
Tenuous reference to Unix tools ed(1), awk(1), yacc(1). Originally scroll of destroy armor.
KERNOD WEL 
"Kenned well" in Scots. Originally scroll of identify.
KIRJE 
Finnish for "a letter" (as in a letter sent by mail). The scroll of mail was added in Hack 1.0.2, and the choice of initial label suggests that the labels are indeed meaningful.
LEP GEX VEN ZEA 
Unknown meaning. Originally scroll of create monster, and "LEP GEX" is the rather monsterous leopard gecko.
NR 9 
Possible reference to The Beatles' confusing Revolution No. 9. Originally scroll of confuse monster.
PRATYAVAYAH 
"Reverse annoyance" in Sanskrit. Originally scroll of remove curse.
PRIRUTSENIE 
"Taming" in Russian (slightly misspelled or mistranscribed but still easily identifiable by Russian players, PRIRUCHENIE would be more correct). Originally scroll of taming.
READ ME 
"Read me". Originally scroll of blank paper. Reference to Alice in Wonderland.
TEMOV 
Unknown meaning. Possibly "Vomit" backwards and misspelled. Also, Temov is a common Eastern European surname. In Hack 1.0, this is initially a spare label.
THARR 
"There's gold in them thar hills!". Originally scroll of gold detection.
VE FORBRYDERNE 
"Woe to the criminals!" in Danish. Originally scroll of punishment.
VELOX NEB 
Unknown meaning (but velox is Latin for "fast", maybe "fast any be"?). In Hack 1.0, this is initially a spare label.
VENZAR BORGAVVE 
Unknown meaning. Originally scroll of teleportation.
VERR YED HORRE 
Unknown meaning. Originally scroll of light.
XIXAXA XOXAXA XUXAXA 
Spanish (archaic spelling) for "mwahahahaha", a stereotypical evil laugh. Originally scroll of scare monster.
YUM YUM 
"Yum yum!" Originally scroll of food detection.
ZELGO MER 
Unknown meaning. Originally scroll of enchant armor.

Some variants add extra scroll names, to accommodate additional scrolls. NetHack 3.6.0 adds no new scrolls, but does add some new names that originally appeared in one or more variants:

ETAOIN SHRDLU 
A rough list of the most common letters in English; often erroneously printed in newspapers.
LOREM IPSUM 
Latin-derived filler text.
FNORD 
Nonsense word central to the Principia Discordia.
KO BATE 
Line from Kurd Lasswitz's book Auf zwei Planeten.
ABRA KA DABRA 
Traditional incantation.
ASHPD SODALG 
From Portal: ASHPD is the acronym for a portal gun; SODALG is GLaDOS spelled backwards.
ZLORFIK 
Alien swearword from the computer game Zak McKracken.
GNIK SISI VLE 
"Elvis is King" spelled backwards. Used as words of power in Zak McKracken.
HAPAX LEGOMENON 
"A thing said once," that is, a word or phrase occurring once in a written corpus.
EIRIS SAZUN IDISI
PHOL ENDE WODAN 
First lines of the two Merseburg incantations.
GHOTI 
A phonological respelling of "fish".
MAPIRO MAHAMA DIROMAT 
Message from a scene in the computer game Wizardry.
VAS CORP BET MANI 
One variant of the Armageddon spell in the Ultima game series; translated as "Great death, small healing."
XOR OTA 
"Atorox" spelled backwards. Atorox is a robot from the works of Aarne Haapakoski.
STRC PRST SKRZ KRK 
"Stick your finger through your throat". Czech and Slovak tongue-twister.

Because there are many more scroll labels than types of scrolls, not all of these are used each game.

References

  1. def.objects.h in Hack 1.0, line 175: list of Hack 1.0 scrolls and their initial labels
  2. hack.o_init.c in Hack 1.0, line 60: this section of code executes once per object type, and shuffles the descriptions of all object types that have descriptions except tools

Further reading