To be fair, pasted into those pages there are also a number of cartoons, pictures and drawings that struck my fancy. But by and large they did so not because of the image, but because of the supporting text. The time-lapse exposure of a gymnast is indeed striking, but all the more so because of the legend at the bottom: "The trick is to keep moving." Overall my fascination can best be summed up by a comment from the playwright Tom Stoppard that I keep on my desk: "Words are innocent, neutral, precise. But if you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little."
That said, my focus is very provincial: I have no ear for anything other than my native speech. Other that a few pleasantries in Portuguese or Spanish or Italian that I've picked up as a consequence of traveling, I am tone deaf in any other language. Mind you, I'm not proud of it, it's just a fact. Thankfully, in spite of my tin tongue, I've been able to muddle through places like Tokyo, Stockholm and Sao Paulo using English, the lingua franca of the world.
But lately I seem to be at a loss closer to home. It's not because I have a new neighbor from Malaysia, or a coworker hails from Pakistan. Actually, people from places such as those and many others are often fluent not only in their native language, but English and several others as well, making me feel even more inadequate in the communications department. No, my linguistic isolation is because my penchant to use words of any sort is fast being eclipsed by the fastest spreading language the world has ever seen, that of emojis.
While the term itself was chosen as the 2015 "Word of the Year" by the Oxford Dictionaries, their usage since then has only accelerated. While the exact figures vary study to study, the conclusions are all the same: the growth of these little graphic symbols has been meteoric. One says that a third of all users include them in their messages. Another notes that they were used in 777% more marketing campaigns in 2016 than the prior year. And still a third tabulates that use of emojis in email increased in 2016 over 7100% year over year. Any way you look at, that little smiley face is taking over.
Purists debate whether these graphics are symbols, slang or an actual tongue; after all, no one speaks emoji. On the other hand, we talk about computer languages like Java or Ruby or Python, and I've never heard anyone say, "SongType = if song.mp3Type == MP3::Jazz." In that light, it's hard to argue that we're not taking about a complete communication ecosystem when I get a message that consists entirely of a happy face, a thumbs ups, a sailboat and a pizza.
But it's meaning? Ah, therein is where I have issues. Take one I got that was a sad face and a plane. Does it mean it was a bad flight? A broken plane? A missed connection? Looked at another way, the Egyptians created hieroglyphics. And while it enabled them to leave a record, it wasn't an alphabet. It took the Greeks to come up with that, enabling more nuanced messaging. Perhaps that's one reason there is no Egyptian Iliad or Odyssey.
I get this all sounds a little like "These kids today and their rock and roll music!" And don't get me wrong: I love pictures and visuals. I make my living from them, and revel in their power. As tools for communicating emotions and feelings, they are superb. It's just that they do have their limits. Or perhaps as put best by the author Paul Thereaux, "A picture is only worth a thousand or so words, and for a writer, that's the problem."
Marc Wollin of Bedford loves words. And sentences. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.