A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 95: invention, illumination, and evasion

Links! It is high time for a few links. Let’s start out with some scholarly appetisers before a good old-fashioned moral panic as dessert.

First up, anthropologist Piers Kelly, writing in the pages of Sapiens magazine, has penned a simple but compelling tale of how the Vai script of Liberia was invented and brought to its modern-day state in less than two centuries. Piers digs into how the accelerated evolution of the Vai script might be used to understand the development of ancient writing systems such as hieroglyphs, cuneiform, and Chinese script. His article is called “What the Vai Script Reveals About the Evolution of Writing”, and it is well worth a read.

Over at Language Log, Victor Mair links to news of a huge discovery of ancient Chinese manuscripts in the form of bamboo slips. The original article is in Chinese, but Google provides the following translation, lightly edited for readability:

More than 3,200 bamboo slips have been rediscovered in the Warring States Chu Tomb at No. 798, Wangjiazui, Jingzhou, Hubei. Some of them are the first archaeological excavation of the Chu State manuscript “Confucius”, some are “Book of Songs”, and some are suspected to be unprecedented pre-Qin music scores. […] The Wangjiazui Warring States Chu Tomb dates back about 2,300 years ago and is located in Hongsheng Village, Jinan Town, Jingzhou District, Jingzhou City, Hubei Province. According to Xiao Yujun, the head of the archaeological project and director of the Archaeological Department of the Jingzhou Museum, in order to cooperate with the infrastructure project, the Jingzhou Museum conducted archaeological excavations at the cemetery from 2019 to 2021[.] A batch of bronze ware, lacquered wood ware and more than 3,200 bamboo slips (not counting small fragments) were collected.

If you’ve read The Book, you’ll know that the ancient Chinese often wrote on vertical slips of bamboo — a practice which, in turn, led to China’s characteristic top-to-bottom and right-to-left style of writing. I found it very difficult to locate images of bamboo slips for publication in The Book (ironically, the language barrier being the main stumbling block), so it’s gratifying to note that the original article has some decent photographs of the manuscripts found in the tomb.

Finally, the US Drug Enforcement Agency has recently taken an interest in emoji. As I discovered via Emoji Information on Twitter, the DEA has released a fact sheet aimed at parents, teachers, and other caregivers that purports to decipher “common emoji codes” for illicit drugs and related slang. Here they are:

Percocet and Oxycodone
💊 🔵 🅿 🍌
💊 🍫 🚌
💊 A-🚆
🔮 💙 💎 🧪
🤎 🐉
❄ 🌨 ⛄ 💎 🎱 🔑 😛 🐡
MDMA & Mollies
❤ ⚡ ❌ 💊 🍬
Cough syrup
🍇 💜 🍼
💨 🔥 🌴 🌲 😮💨 🍀
Dealer advertising
🤑 👑 💰 💵 🔌
High potency
🚀 💣 💥
Universal for drugs
Large batch

But wait! The DEA is behind the times on this. The phenomenon of emoji-as-drugs-slang seems to have been uncovered by BBC reporter Stacey Dooley in a 2017 programme entitled Stacey Dooley Investigates: Kids Selling Drugs Online. (Dooley’s findings were parroted by outlets such as the UK’s premier freesheet, the Metro, and salted with implied outrage into the bargain.) Many of the DEA’s terms were already in use at the time of Dooley’s investigation.

It’s worth noting, I think, that the DEA’s “emoji drug codes” are no more sinister or nefarious than slang words such as “snow” or “weed”. Once you know that ‘❄’ means “cocaine” and ‘🌴’ means “marijuana”, you have cracked the code. This isn’t to minimise the impact of illegal drug use, but I do think it’s a little unfair to single out emoji; one might equally well blame English for permitting individual words to have more than one meaning.

This has been your periodic emoji public service announcement. Please use drug emoji responsibly.

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