My last post, where we took a look at Birmingham’s over-punctuated street signs, stirred up quite a bit of discussion. Rich Greenhill suggested that Birmingham’s commas-and-tilde motif could have come from an abbreviated medieval ‘a’ or, perhaps, “ditto” marks. H James Lucas wondered if the paired commas might be a single inverted comma, used by the ironmonger to save typesetting effort; Brian Inglis took the opposite tack and suggested the commas could have been added purely so the manufacturer could invoice for an extra couple of characters. And, on street signs in general, Korhomme pointed out Bern’s colour-coded street signs, imposed by Napoleon’s invading armies. Read about these and other ideas in the comments from last time round.
With emoji everywhere you might care to look, a nagging question remains unanswered. What are emoji? Are they a language, whatever that means? A pictographic script in the manner of hieroglyphics or Chinese characters? Or are they something else entirely? In this post we examine how emoji are, and aren’t, used, and what that might tell us about the nature of emoji as a whole.
Let’s try an experiment. If we start with some large body of text — post-war American novels, say, or twentieth-century British newspapers — and count all the occurrences of all the words in those texts, we can put together a fairly accurate list of the most popular words in English. The word “the” would be at the top, followed by “of” and then “and”. With this list of word counts in hand, you could turn to any other similar body of work — British novels or American newspapers, for example — and have a good idea of how often you’d expect to find each of the words on your list. Simple enough.
Last Friday, quite unexpectedly, I found myself chatting to a book group in NYC. Kristina Jelinek had mentioned on Twitter that she was reading Shady Characters for her book group at work; I offered to join in too, if they’d like to have me, and so I spent an absorbing forty-five minutes answering questions over Google Chat. (I’m Skype-literate too, I promise, but our Internet connection was uncooperative.) This coming Tuesday I’ll be at the Bonanza! book group at the Blue Blazer here in Edinburgh, and now that my appetite has been whetted I can’t wait.
With Winterval approaching, and bearing in mind the concomitant need to find gifts for our nearest and dearest, may I present a gift that I would dearly love to receive: Emoji Dick; or 🐳. This is, as editor Fred Benenson explains, “a crowd sourced and crowd funded translation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into Japanese emoticons called emoji”; Shady Characters readers will be well aware of the general concept of emoticons, of course, and emoji are effectively an expanded set of such symbols composed of graphical images rather than typographic marks.