Will We All Speak Emoji Language in a Couple Years?

These little pictures are all over the place: people tell relationship stories in them, moms use them, and the heart emoji ♥ was named the Global Language Monitor's word of the year. There's even a translation of Moby Dick into emoji.

But are emoji actually a reasonable substitute for words? Let's take Emoji Dick as an example—it made a lot of headlines, but what does it look like to read? Here's the first sentence:

Any guesses what that means? Telephone man sailboat whale okay?

It's the iconic opening line, "Call me Ishmael." So, the telephone could mean "call", and I suppose the narrator is a man, but I don't know how sailboat whale okay = Ishmael.

But perhaps it's unfair to try to say proper names in emoji. So here's another sentence, with only common nouns:

Go ahead, try it.

Man taxi poutyface syringe arrow cop heart cyclone?

Give up yet?

"It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation."

So, I guess driving is the taxi, regulating is the cop, a heart is close enough to a spleen, and the cyclone swirl is kind of like circulation. That's quite clever—but still not obvious from the emoji alone. And if we keep reading, it doesn't get any clearer.

I think it's really cool that someone tried to translate Moby Dick into emoji, and it's not like I could have done a better job. But that's the problem—no matter how good you are at emoji, or whether Unicode eventually adds a "spleen" icon, there are some things you just can't say clearly in any combination of little pictures. And I think the creator of Emoji Dick also realizes that it's a problem: the book was ultimately printed with the original English sentences interwoven with their emoji "equivalents"—something that you'd never find in a book translated into French or Arabic.

But it's not even just Melville's elaborate prose—how would you design an unambiguous emoji for "yesterday"? Or "parent," as distinct from "mother" or "father"? What about verbs ("run" as opposed to "a runner") and adjectives ("independent")? Or all those little words in between, like "the," "or," "of," and "me"?

Calling emoji language is like calling a whale a fish. Sure, there are certain similarities—both language and emoji can communicate things, and both whales and fish swim around in water. But whales and fish don't actually do the same thing in the water. For one thing, fish have gills while whales have to swim up to the surface to breathe. And emoji and language don't do the same thing either.

So what's the point of emoji? If you look at how people actually use them, we're using emoji as a supplement to language, not replacing it entirely.

Emoji and other forms of creative punctuation are the digital equivalent of making a face or a silly hand gesture while you're speaking. You'd feel weird having a conversation in a monotone with your hands tied behind your back, but that's kind of what it's like texting in plain vanilla Standard English. But typing exclusively in emoji is like playing charades—it's fun for a while, but if you actually want to say anything complicated? 

Part of a new series on internet linguistics.

What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?

Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


More from mental floss studios