The typewriter emoji is dead; long live the typewriter emoticon

Richard Polt reports sad news from the Typewriter Insurgency:

A few years ago I kvetched about the lack of a typewriter emoji and even started a letter-writing campaign. Well, there is a formal and elaborate process for requesting a new emoji. And since nobody else seemed to be doing it, I sat down last summer and created a proposal that I sent to the emoji subcommittee of the Unicode Technical Committee.

The response he received:

Thank you again for your proposal. The emoji subcommittee has reviewed it, and has decided to decline the addition of “typewriter”. The statistics do not seem to justify the addition. The “office” category of emoji is already well represented and of lower usage than many other emoji. The “keyboard” emoji is also very close to this. ( )

Alas, it is not to be. I thank Richard for fighting this battle on behalf of the Insurgency. But perhaps instead of seeking legitimacy from within the Paradigm, we should invent a lo-fi typewriter emoticon that anyone can deploy at will. A simple but powerful symbol for the Revolution, a la the Mockingjay or the Bat-signal. This would also better align with the Insurgency’s principles.

My first attempt: ‘[:::] 

This is more of a from-above view, whereas Richard chimed in with a good one that is more of a side view: ~/:::/º 

The degree symbol isn’t very common (the Mac shortcut is Alt-Shift-8), though it’s a secondary character within the zero on iPhone keyboards. The bullet point • could be another option as it’s also in the iPhone punctuation menu.

But these are starting points. How can we make it better?


Abolish the apostrophe!

I came out against irregular superlatives. I lobbied for the interrobang. Now throw this on my personal 2018 platform: Abolish the apostrophe.

James Harbeck laid out the case against them a few years ago in an article that, to make his point, lacks apostrophes:

Why are so many people so confused by apostrophes? Because they cant hear them in speech, and they dont serve a valuable grammatical function. They simply mark contraction or possession, and you can tell the meaning without them. If you couldnt, the indignant red-pen-wielding self-appointed correction brigades wouldnt know for sure which ones were wrong because the meaning wouldnt be clear. But they always do know, because the meaning is clear even when the apostrophe is used wrongly or omitted.

I liken apostrophes to library fines. Fines are an outmoded practice based on faulty assumptions, and they annoy patrons and staff equally. When libraries do get rid of them, patron satisfaction increases and items miraculously still come back.

Same with apostrophes. They no longer serve any practical function, are too easily misused, and, most importantly, are a pain to type on a typewriter. English would be better off without them. So lets get rid of them.

Books Language

Notes on Shady Characters

shadyKeith Houston’s 2013 book Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks is like catnip for word nerds. It’s rife with historical trivia about the more uncommon punctuation marks that have littered language history, including the pilcrow (¶), dagger (†), and interrobang (‽). It also provides background on the symbols we seen all the time, like the hash sign (#) or the ampersand (@). Intrigued? Of course you are! Learn more at and read on for some notes I took while reading the book. Caution: extreme geekery ahead.

Boustrophedon (adj. & adv.): from left to right and right to left in alternating lines (from Greek “as an ox turns in plowing”)

Komma, kolon, and periodos were initially dots denoting short, medium, and long pauses

— The pilcrow (¶) started as a C (from the Roman capitulum, meaning “chapters”) that was filled in with a vertical line by medieval scribes

— The word pilcrow originated as the Greek paragraphos, which became pelagraphe, which became pelagreffe, whose Middle English pylcrafte turned into pilcrow.

— Alternative names for the interrobang (‽): exclamaquest (which is my favorite), interrapoint, exclarogative

lb (for “pound”) came from the Roman libra, meaning scales or balances

oz (for “ounce”) came from medieval Italian onza, meaning twelfth of a Roman pound

lb with tilde above it (which was used to show a contraction), when written in haste, looked like the hash sign (#); combined with Latin pondo it became the “pound sign”

— The ampersand (@) started as Pompeian graffiti, later becoming part of the alphabet: “X, Y, Z, and per se (by itself) and” – i.e. “ampersand”

— The dagger (†), called obelos (Greek for “roasting spit”) was originally a straight line that marked superfluous lines in a text

— The asterisk (*) (from Greek asteriskos for “little star”) was used for marking genuine lines in Bible translation as opposed to added or mistranslated one

— The em dash (—) was used to censor names or curses, so “dash” became its own epithet

— Exclamation points on early typewriters were made with a period and apostrophe

— There were such things as the commash ,— and semicolash :— but they have faded from use

— Double hyphen (- -) instead of em dash was standard on typewriters; practice proliferated with spread of comics