Re: Emoji: emoticons vs. literacy

From: Jukka K. Korpela (
Date: Tue Dec 30 2008 - 15:15:52 CST

Asmus Freytag wrote:

> Originally, emoticons started as a punny way of using punctuation.

I don’t think that’s an accurate description. Emoticons are, by their
nature, special symbols rather than punctuation, even when composed of
punctuation marks. You might compare a smiley to a question mark especially
in languages where question marks are the _only_ way of distinguishing a
question from a statement. Yet, far more often, emoticons are just something
supposedly funny, comparable to drawings.

> However, nowadays most users of these things pick them
> from a list of symbols

Is that the real reason for the discussion, or is the real reason what John
Hudson wrote: that some companies transmit emoticons as characters in a
nonstandard encoding?

> What used to be a punny way of
> using punctuation has become de-facto markup for text elements. Just
> like the TeX markup for mathematical symbols, or > in HMTL.

No, it’s not markup. Whatever it is, it is not special notations that
enclose text characters. Entity references like > might be called markup,
but they are really auxiliary notations—and ”>” is actually never needed,
it’s used just for symmetry with ”&lt;”, which is needed because ”<” as such
is really markup-significant, tag start character.

> However, the use case here is that the
> display is fixed, and it's up to the user to make the distinction.

Once again, I don’t follow. What’s ”fixed”? There’s nothing fixed in ”8)” as
far as I can tell. It’s a two-character string, which has many
interpretations and many renderings.

> No, I'm not arguing for unlimited semantic encoding. Unicode's design
> point is that the display on the receiving end can unambiguously
> confer the intent of the author in terms of the identity and ordering
> of the written symbols.

Where does the Unicode Standard state this?

According to Wiio’s law, all communication fails, except by accident. There
is absolutely no way to guarantee that a string of characters gets
interpreted ”as intended”, or really any way to absolutely know what was
intended. And even more certainly, it cannot be guaranteed at the level of
coding characters.

If you mean that it must be possible to indicate the meaning of something as
an emoticon symbol, then I think we are back to the question whether such
symbols, as independent characters and not a play on characters, are used.

Shouldn’t this be quite independent of the question whether they have
ASCII ”fallbacks” or imitations or origins? Yet we are stuck with the
confused issue of ”emoticons” that are ASCII strings on one side and ”independent”
character on the otther.


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