A WEALTH of emojis and a poverty of language.
My new work iPhone has a grim feature that automatically turns a word into a cartoonish little picture. The upgraded software means I need to actively turn what I've typed from an emoji back into a word.
So, for example, "love" becomes a red heart. "Chicken" becomes a drumstick. "Octopus" becomes a pink oval with eyes and four legs. Come on now.
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Facebook does a similar thing, where words are replaced with infantilising drawings. Can't I just tell you I'm happy? Do I have to prove it with a gurning yellow moon face?
I was lamenting the slow death of letters when I read about a group of heroic dairy drivers from Maine who have used the Oxford comma to win a dispute about overtime pay.
It's a source of much debate, the Oxford comma. Used in a list of three or more things before "and" or "or", its aim is to clarify sentences that contain lists.
Often used as an example is: "I dedicate this book to my parents, Jeremy Corbyn and Katie Hopkins."
Its detractors claim it adds confusion: "I dedicate this book to my boyfriend, Jeremy Corbyn, and Katie Hopkins."
The 75 pedantic dairy farmers, however, have used it to rake in some extra money after a US court of appeals agreed that the lack of a comma made part of Maine’s overtime laws too ambiguous.
A 29-page court decision over this one little missing black scratch on a page will cost the Portland dairy company an estimated $10 million.
The comma is a powerful and disputed tool. Varying interpretations of a comma in America's Second Amendment have affected court decisions on gun laws. In 2014, a driver named Andrea Cammelleri, of West Jefferson, Ohio, avoided a parking ticket by pointing out a missing comma in the village law.
At one end of the spectrum the intricacies of language are making law and influencing livelihoods, while at the other technology is obliterating this sophistication with cute pictures.
Last year a London translation agency advertised for its first “emoji translator/ specialist”. “In the absence of any native speakers, the successful candidate should be able to demonstrate a passion for emojis."
Emojis have their uses - speed, fun - but so does a functioning grasp of English grammar have its use.
Very few people like a grammar snob. Sticking rigidly to a stylistic point, such as the Oxford comma, and demanding it win at all costs will see you shunned at shindigs and blocked on social media. Insisting on rigid grammar conventions harks to marking out people as "the right sort", which is a social segregation path it's not wise to walk down.
But please let's not allow emojis to inch out words. After millennia of development, is the future of language hieroglyphics?
This legal case demonstrates the power and subtlety of language, it's ability to convey nuance and complex thought.
The emoji is the lazy man's communication. That drumstick symbolises every chicken but it cannot symbolise every chicken. How to use it to convey the difference between a scrawny battery-rescued hen trying to grow back its feathers, a lean feral bantam pecking in the dirt by the side of a dusty New Mexico road or the dead broiler yellowing in the window of a restaurant in Chinatown?
Eventually we will be unable to deal with complex thought and expression, replacing our best work with four-legged octopuses.
How lucky we are to posses such a flexible muscle as English. Shame on us if we let it waste away due to under use.