March 23, 2008

A little more on obscenicons

In today's mail: a wonderful billboard that uses Chinese characters and Spanish punctuation marks as obscenicons, and some speculation about why = and + aren't good obscenicons.  This is a follow-up to two earlier postings.

The billboard advertises Chino Latino, a Minneapolis restaurant (at Lake and Hennepin, which might not be clear from the photo) that offers "street food from the hot zones", so the mixture of characters from Chinese and Spanish has some motivation.  The source of this photo, correspondent SYZ, suggests that the Chinese is gibberish (but see below), and notes that the sentiment is "a reference to the unspeakable awfulness of the weather in my lovely hometown of Minneapolis, where it snowed on Friday." 

(Not the only Chino Latino around.  There's also the Chino Latino Modern Pan-Asian Cuisine and Cocktail Bar, with locations in London, Nottingham, and Leeds, which offers "Far East and Japanese cuisine, with a Latino bar".)

[Added 3/26/08: The billboard has found its way to the delightful website Hanzi Smatter, "dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture", where it's noted that the billboard has repetitions of a sequence of characters meaning 'new imitated Song typeface'.  We last mentioned Hanzi Smatter on Language Log here.]

Meanwhile, Patrick Masterson writes to suggest that the problem with + and = as obscenicons is that they're not squiggly enough.  Good point.  He goes on to propose that

Obscenicons are supposed to be ascii representations of the little squiggles that comic artists do, and so the particular punctuation used has to visually look like the sort of thing a cartoonist would use.

which would imply that the cartoonists' obscenicons preceded the punctuational ones.  As I said before, I know nothing about the history of these conventions, but it's also possible that punctuational obscenicons came first (or that the conventions evolved together), and that they were chosen because of their other uses (! ? *) or because they were sufficiently large and squiggly to be prominent.

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 23, 2008 12:43 PM