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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.

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travel
Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

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

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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

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