From emojis to hashtags: 7 weird ways we communicate

Lost and found in translation, China
Lost and found in translation, China © Janet Gyenes
Such sensory cues are constantly evolving as technology shapes our world

The Easter weekend is already upon us. And for many, that means plenty of communicating, head-to-head and face-to-face. As a writer and avid photographer, the power (and chaos) of communication is always on my mind. The ways in which we tell a story, capture an image or hear music are myriad. Even silence speaks volumes. (Keep reading below for a kick-ass American Sign Language interpretation of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song.) Such sensory cues are constantly evolving as technology shapes our world. And it’s kind of mind-blowing. Here are 7 conversations starters you can use this weekend. Now go!

1. Remember the world pre-emoji? I do. But I’ve fully ? these silly symbols and their multiple meanings. Who could predict that the redesign of the peach emoji’s bootyliciousness, would break the internet? Good thing emoji designers are adding a face palm. (And yes, there is an emojipedia.)

Do emoji’s diminish verbal language? Shigetaka Kurita, inventor of the emoji, doesn’t thinks so. Here’s his take, excerpted from this article in The Guardian:

“I don’t accept that the use of emoji is a sign that people are losing the ability to communicate with words, or that they have a limited vocabulary … And it’s not even a generational thing … People of all ages understand that a single emoji can say more about their emotions than text.”

2. Frenemy. No, it’s not a new word, but it has being re-upped for modern times (so has the word re-up). The portmanteau (and an oxymoron) of the words “friend” and “enemy” was first coined in 1953. (Now it has much deeper meaning. Thankfully, Psychology Today offers advice on dealing with the three (three!) types of frenemies.)

The word “freelance,” aka, writer for hire, is also a portmanteau of the words “free” and “lance.” Yep. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a freelance (or free-lance) was a “medieval mercenary warrior.” The pen, after all, is mightier than the sword. Want to know more? Fall down this rabbit hole about the word’s origin.

3. Speaking of made up words, while emojis can be used express alternative meanings for our, um, base desires (sometimes an ? is just an ??), what about those more esoteric emotions that are hard to express in any form?

John Koenig, author of the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is tackling this gap in vocabulary with his compendium of made up words. Check out his TED Talk below for a primer.

Koenig’s words aren’t jabberwocky: each has etymological origins. For instance, his word “vemödalen” (the fear that everything has already been done) come from the Swedish word “vemod” (tender sadness, pensive melancholy) and the name of the Swedish town Vemdalen.

Koenig’s voiceover and visual representations of each of his words makes me realize how inadequate the English language really is (even though the Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use. And, oh yeah, 47,156 obsolete ones). Here’s just one example:

And this: “It should be a comfort that we’re not so different…”

4. Lingua franca and Chuck D. Where to start? There’s a poetry to the phrase lingua franca. The two words essentially describe a form of pidgin—language created and adopted by diverse cultures so they can communicate. Verlan, for instance, is a type of French slang that reverses syllables. A café, for instance, becomes féca in Verlan. ThoughtCo. offers some interesting examples

Then there’s Lunfardo, considered the “dirty slang of Buenos Aires,” Argentina. Wander-Argentina describes it as “a jargon of about 5,000 words that emerged among the lower classes in Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century.” Lunfardo is sprinkled with words with origins in Italian, prison-speak, African slavery, and the language of Argentina’s cultural touchstones such as the tango and the gaucho.

What about the language of rap? And the unspoken language of fashion, whether preppy or punk? Words and what we wear can speak volumes about who we are, and what we stand for (behold the power of the pink pussy hat). Rachelle Hruska MacPherson brings both together in her Lingua Franca line of cashmere sweaters embroidered with words and phrases such as “old school” and “Don’t believe the hype.”

Remember the refrain and title of Public Enemy’s song? Those words are certainly cemented in my brain. (I even went to a Public Enemy concert in Vancouver many, many moons ago.) Here’s a refresher:

And some prescient lyrics:

“False media, we don’t need it do we?
(It’s fake that’s what it be to ya, dig me?
Yo, Terminator X, step up on the stand
And show these people what time it is boy)”

5. Speaking of music, when I attended the Austin City Limits music fest last fall, I couldn’t help but notice people standing on the edge of the stage signing during the performances. And it wasn’t just a simple translation of the spoken word into American Sign Language. This was next-level interpretation. What’s the difference? Check out this article in Vox and watch the video where the amazing Amber Galloway Gallego, an American Sign Language interpreter, shares her perspective on opening up the world of music to an audience of people who are hearing impaired.

Another must (I insist!): Watch Gallego at work, interpreting the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Under the Bridge.” Partway through, the video narrows its focus on Gallego, who’s standing in front of the stage directly below lead singer Anthony Kiedis. Their “performances” eventually overlap, making for a kick-ass duet. And I’d be as bold to say (write✍️) that Gallegos almost upstages Kiedis, without uttering a word. Watch. Listen. Learn. Share.

6. Pound. Octothorp(e). Hash. That crosshatch symbol on telephones is now better known as the hashtag. Chris Messina invented it in 2007. Trust me: How it came about is an interesting story you’ll want to listen to on 99% Invisible (#99PI), a podcast (my favourite podcast) hosted by Roman Mars.

Side note: Even though I’m a voracious reader and staunch defender of the written word, I refuse—REFUSE!—to read Mars’ podcast. For me, his dulcet voice makes this podcast even more compelling that words and characters. (Yes, I’m at least a level 7 on the fan-girling scale.) It’s meant to be listened to, absorbed, ruminated over.

So what? Who cares about a hashtag? It’s a way to show solidarity online in four little lines and fewer than 140 characters. Never underestimate its #power.


7. Missing numbers. Take the elevator up into any one of Vancouver’s gleaming skyscrapers and peek at the panel of buttons. You might see a number 13 (the building I live in, circa 1960s, doesn’t have one), but you won’t likely see 4, 14 or 24. Ah, superstition lives here. Those fours are bad luck. The number eight, however, is adored. Why? With its proximity on the Pacific Rim, it’s no surprise that Vancouver has a large Asian population. And with that comes cultural celebrations like Chinese New Year, the cherry blossom festival—and more delectable dim sum joints and sushi shops than anyone wants to bother to count. Food, dragons, cherry blossoms: they’re other enduring symbols of cross-cultural communication. But that’s a topic for another day.

So practise your communicating! Share your comments, Tweets and ?? Φ

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