February 02, 2006

Invention of the supine round bracket

As a footnote to the business about Cingular trying to patent emoticon-entry methods, Pekka Karjalainen has reminded me that I should have linked to Vladimir Nabokov's suggestion in a 1969 NYT "interview":

Q: How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?

Nabokov: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile – some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.

As far as I know, no patent application followed.

I've put "interview" in scare quotes because the version that I've found on line is due to Nabokov himself, who describes it as follows:

In April, 1969, Alden Whitman sent me these questions and came to Montreux for a merry interview shortly before my seventieth birthday. His piece appeared in The New York Times, April 19, 1969, with only two or three of my answers retained. The rest are to be used, I suppose, as "Special to The New York Times" at some later date by A. W., if he survives, or by his successor. I transcribe some of our exchanges.

Note that 22 of Nabokov's "interviews" with representatives of various publications can be found here (scroll down to the section labelled "Interviews"). All are worth reading, including the 1964 interview with Alvin Toffler which I referenced in a previous post for its elegant little joke about Fulmerford. I'll reproduce here Nabokov's introductory description:

This exchange with Alvin Toffler appeared in Playboy for January, 1964. Great trouble was taken on both sides to achieve the illusion of a spontaneous conversation. Actually, my contribution as printed conforms meticulously to the answers, every word of which I had written in longhand before having them typed for submission to Toffler when he came to Montreux in mid-March, 1963. The present text takes into account the order of my interviewer's questions as well as the fact that a couple of consecutive pages of my typescript were apparently lost in transit. Egreto perambis doribus!

Extra points for decrypting the final "quotation" :-)...

[Update: I suspect that VN would have enjoyed this.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 2, 2006 10:40 AM