A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 40: Emoji Dick and the ANGRY Full Stop

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.

As a fan of Melville’s most famous book, and, well, a blogger and writer on the subject of unusual punctuation, I don’t think I have to explain just how loudly this book speaks to me. Benenson talked to Sally Law at The New Yorker about the genesis of the translation, and I encourage you to have a read through the interview before you head to lulu.com TO BUY ME THIS BOOK.*

Speaking of ALL CAPS, last month The Chronicle of Higher Education delved into the import of this oldest of Internet irritations. As well as the use of caps, however, Anne Curzan also discusses the changing use of punctuation — and especially how the lack of punctuation has become normal in some contexts. She notes that “Texting must compensate for the lack of physical cues we have in face-to-face conversation for determining emotional content”, and that punctuation has evolved to keep pace:

For example, “okay” is neutral, but “okay.” (with the period) is a little bit stern if not a little bit angry, and “okay…” (with ellipsis) is downright unhappy and/or skeptical.

This dovetails neatly with a recent chat I had with Ben Crair of the New Republic, in which he posited that “The Period Is Pissed”, and asked: “When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?” Perhaps I haven’t picked up on the mores of instant messaging to the required degree, but I’m not sure that I quite concur; am I hopelessly behind the times, or is the humble period now freighted with aggression?

In other news, I was happy to be able to introduce my friend Alexandra Silverman to Penny Speckter recently. Alex profiled Penny for Narratively, and she has captured her absolutely perfectly. You must read her article!

Lastly, some time ago I spoke to David Plaisant for Monocle 24’s design programme “Section D”, and the show is now available online should you want to listen. Yours truly pops up at around 17 minutes in.

Thanks for reading!

A tip of the hat to Holly Bik at Deep Sea News for coming across this leviathan work of emoji. ↩︎

13 comments on “Miscellany № 40: Emoji Dick and the ANGRY Full Stop

  1. Comment posted by Garth Wallace on

    Hi, I just discovered your blog. Interesting stuff! I apologize for commenting so belatedly on this entry, but I wanted to clarify something. Emoji are not really emoticons: the apparent similarity in the names as written in the Latin alphabet is misleading. “Emoticon” is a portmanteau of “emotion” and “icon”; “emoji” (絵文字) is a compound of the Japanese 絵 “e” (pronounced like the name of the letter A) meaning “picture, drawing, painting” and 文字 “moji”, meaning “character”: the compound means “pictograph”.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Garth — thanks for the comment! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      How would you define emoji with respect to emoticons, in that case? Is there a connotation that the object depicted is what is meant by the symbol, or are some emoji more abstract, like emoticons?

    2. Comment posted by Garth Wallace on

      They are generally cartoonish but literal depictions. The emoji sets supported by Japanese cell phone providers (later adopted into Unicode) do include some faces with various expressions, which can be used as emoticons, and similar things such as “see no evil, hear no evil” monkey faces and a bowing human figure, but also restroom signs, animals of the Asian zodiac, a piece of sushi, a pile of poop, an Easter Island statue…it’s really a grab-bag.

      The Japanese term for emoticons, in the sense of faces built out of other characters, is “kaomoji” (“face characters”). There are an endless supply of them, and unlike Western emoticons they are usually not turned sideways: (°∀°) (‘д`) =(^o^)=

    3. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      I am duly educated. Thanks!

      How do users enter emoji? My understanding is that Japanese keyboards display both roman characters and hiragana and that text entered this way can be automatically converted into kanji if desired. Given that textual emoticons can be converted to graphical counterparts in a similar way, does emoji have a similar mechanism or do users have to hunt through graphical menus of them?

    4. Comment posted by Garth Wallace on

      I think so, at least for some of them. I believe they also have emoji character palettes. I don’t have a mobile phone that supports them so I can’t really check, and none of the PC Japanese text input methods I’ve run across had direct access to emoji via character replacement (as far as I know).

    5. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Interesting. I wonder how they name each one? Maybe there’s some sort of alias mechanism at work.

      Thanks again for the insight!

  2. Comment posted by Matt A on

    This doesn’t work on my laptop, but the Chinese IME for my iphone brings up emoji as well as characters as an option for certain words, whether they are entered by typing pinyin or writing the characters by hand on the touchscreen.
    Some examples are: “beer” 啤酒 🍻 or 🍺 , “sushi” 壽司 🍣 , “hand” 手 👋, “rain” 下雨 ☔️, “snow” 下雪 ❄️, etc. I’m pretty sure it works the same way for Japanese.

    1. Comment posted by Matt A on

      Weird, that should be “rain” 下雨 ☔ and “snow” 下雪 ❄.

    2. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Matt — thanks for that. Have you come across any emoji with multiple names, or are the names fairly well standardised by now?

    3. Comment posted by Matt A on

      I haven’t come across any, but I’m not sure. I’ve never found a list of the names—though one must be out there—but sometimes when I enter a character or word one or more emoji comes up along with the list of characters.

      (& that of course should have been “IME” not “IMA” in my first comment.)

    4. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Sounds quite sensible. Unicode has a nice summary of emoticons, emoji and the like here that points towards some of their encodings (and hence names) for various symbols.

      (I’ve fixed your original post.)

    5. Comment posted by Matt A on

      Thanks for making the correction.

      I just played around with trying to find emoji through Chinese input, and the terms that can call them up don’t seem to have any straight-forward relationship to the official names.

      For example, bīngqílín 冰淇淋, bīngjīlíng 冰激凌, & syut3 gou1/xuěgāo 雪糕 (all different words for “ice cream”, the last mostly in Cantonese), shuāngqílín 霜淇淋 (“soft-serve ice cream”), and tiántǒng 甜筒 (“ice-cream cone”, that is, the cone only, not the ice cream in the cone) all give 🍦 as an option.

    6. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      So the net is fairly wide? That’s understandable. Thanks again for all your investigations on the subject!

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