Geneva Diaries #75*(Part 1)

(The Last Letter 2009-2015)

OED, Emojis, FreeTheEggplant, Censorship, Evidence, Lingua Franca, Kipling and Evangeline  All on the Silk Road 😂

Nov 15, 2015, 7:33 PM

Dear Purnima,

It was lovely to get your comment on FB yesterday. I have been thinking about you the past couple of days and wanted to write, and your FB comment spurred me on.

We have been back in Chiang Mai for four days now. It’s so wonderful to be here again. The weather is nice and warm, but not terribly hot, and the people are so lovely and friendly and then there is the food, not to mention the wonderfully delicious massages.  Last night we went to the weekly Sunday Night Street Market in the center of the city. It is such a delightful experience and there is a such a variety of creative things that they sell. The only drawback is the huge number of tourists that crowd the street. Sometimes it is almost impossible to move. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the street and then we capped the evening off with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We had a lovely table right next to the pool.

How are you doing since your return from your latest California jaunt? It was so nice talking to you when we were in San Diego. I’m sorry it didn’t work out to talk further while you were in Northern California.

We have been saddened by the terrible and horrendous attacks in Paris. One of the restaurants hit, La Belle Equipe, is just around the corner from the apartment we rented in October when we were in Paris and we walked past it often.  I’m afraid that this will change so many things in the world, just like 9/11 did, and I don’t know where or when it will all end. I deplore the vicious attacks on innocent civilians, especially since it is in the name of a religious cause. The only heartening thing, if you can call it such, is the solidarity that has been expressed not just among the French people but from all corners of the globe. However, I fear the long term social and political consequences. France will have presidential elections next year, and I fear that the far right, anti immigrant parties will reap a lot of votes because of this.

That was a wonderful picture of Tara that you posted on FB when she left for school. She has grown into such a fine young woman. You must be proud of her. Is she still at the same school in the north of India ?

Speaking of northern India, I am just finishing watching (only one more episode to watch) a marvelous British series called “Indian Summers”. It deals with India just before independence and the fact that the British administration of India moved their headquarters to northern India, at the foot of the Himalayas in order to escape the summer heat in Delhi. It is such a damning portrait of the arrogant British and their racial attitudes toward the Indian people and how manipulative they were in their public displays of how they handed out justice to the Indian people. There are, of course, several romantic involvements between Indians and Brits, and it all comes together so delightfully. It’s one of the best series about India that I have seen in a very long time. I’m just hoping there will be a second season.

We are flying to Bangkok on Saturday and on Monday we fly to Kuala Lumpur for two nights and then on to Singapore for two more before we fly back to LA.

More when we get back to Ojai.

Love and hugs,


Roger Stevenson

– – –


Dear Roger,

How wonderful to get a lovely long email from you! It sure sounds like Thailand has carved out a special place in your heart, and it certainly did mine but I got to see a lot of it from under a 100 feet. Yes, the sea, sand and massages were incredible, but I used to leave Mirko sunbathing on the beach ( a strange western custom in my eyes), and head out to the deep ocean for scuba adventure. Yes, I married a New Yorker who didn’t drive and wasn’t keen to get more than his ankles wet. I now yearn to return to Thailand in this new found second life for the sea and for the food.

What happened in France was beyond a tragedy, with so many innocents murdered, the world just doesn’t make any sense. I’m so glad you were far from the danger, and not at your summer rental. Annick must be very disturbed, do give her my regards. However, I believe the main the test for the French nation and French values that the whole world admires is now, to see that they in this very intense time of crisis uphold Liberty, Egalite and Fraternity. What do you sense from the murmurs on the ground?

On home ground, I’m always looking for interesting movies and tv shows to fill my evenings. The British show Indian summers seems right up my alley. As you know, my family was very much a part of that story, The British Raj and all the stories around it are the lives lived by my grandparents and then my father as a child of the Raj. The summer capital you refer to is Simla, where my family spend many summers and in my memory it will always be a place superimposed with images of  my family and of course an integral part of the story of Kadambari (for woven in the story of Kadambari is the story of my family, the story of the Raj). Roger, for me to get images of Kadambari, I will have to visit the British , French and US archives, and you will have to help. Yes, even the US archives, for This is an American Story!

We last spoke on your birthday, October 7th, when I was visiting Anaheim, and I have been remiss in not responding to your earlier email, but I was gripped by the most intense jet lag/exhaustion after my travels and have just about managed to recover. It was really unfortunate that we were unable to meet, but I’m sure you had a lovely birthday weekend treat to San Diego with Annick.Well Roger, since Annick took you on a birthday trip, I would also like to do the same. However, my planned journey is a rather more exotic one, as I hope to take you for a tour of the Silk Road and Central Asia (perhaps one day for real as well). So seat belts on, let’s see how steady you are on a camel.

But first, before we embark upon our exotic travels, I would like to share with you a piece of news that has tickled me and had me engrossed over the last couple of days and I’ve been raring to share, The Oxford English Dictionaries word of the year for 2015: “Face with tears of joy”,😂 an emoji!

See the OED blog below:

This has caused a furore over the internet, and I’ve been having fun following the expletives. People just can’t seem to be able to wrap their minds around this, its been declared an outrage, a betrayal among many other colorful terms. It is that all too familiar yellow round face with tears pouring from the side of its eyes, to convey an image of unrestrained laughter or LOL, laughing out loud. Apparently, not only are emoji’s which have only recently entered out universe (1990) fast taking over as the most popular means of communication, this particular emoji “face with tears of joy”, is the most popular of the lot. Once again, the emoji is an image, pictograph as opposed to the emoticon which is an arrangement of punctuation like a smiley face 🙂 The overriding question was on the various online forums was “How is this even a word?” It’s an image, a picture, a symbol … 

Well according to the oxford dictionary, a word is defined as below:

Definition of word in English:


1A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed:

I don’t like the word ‘unofficial’

why so many words for so few ideas?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “word” as:

: a sound or combination of sounds that has a meaning and is spoken or written

: a brief remark or conversation : something that a person says

: an order or command

Roger, as you know the earliest written communications primarily comprised of pictographic representations. This logographic language quickly evolved to represent both images for the thing described and similar sounds for other objects, like the hieroglyphics. So pure pictorial symbolism for an object is truly rudimentary, and that was the charge being leveled against the OED word of the year, that it was a process of regression and not evolution.

See below:

The Chinese writing system is a unique phenomenon in the modern world of alphabet scripts. Instead of a few dozen letters, it has developed thousands of complex signs or “characters” that represent morphemes and words. Even related writing systems such as Japanese and Korean, while sharing many of the same characters, can fully function as purely phonetic scripts. And while it is not the only living logographic writing system in the modern world, it is the only one serving as the primary writing system for hundreds of millions of people.

However, on the most vocal charge of all on how is this image/pictograph even a word, I found myself revisiting the China Institute in New York where I had spend a summer, and recalling all the images from the characters of the Chinese script that were very much a pictorial image of the object represented, like man, mountain and tree. I know haters will hate and objectors will object, but are all these objectors really saying that the Chinese character for man, mountain and tree is not a word? Are they really saying that the only words that exist, exist in the English language and the rest of the world could just lump it? Are they saying that Mandarin, Korean and Japanese are not really languages, even though they are spoken by millions of people? What then constitutes language?

See below Logographic scripts and Chinese characters for Man, Mountain and Tree:

logogram, or logograph, is a written or pictorial symbol that is used to represent an entire word, unlike phonograms, which represent phonetic sounds.

As a purely logographic script would be impractical for most languages, writing systems that incorporate logograms also make use of phonetic elements. Thus, such writing systems make use of a combination of phonetic and logographic symbols, including ideograms.

For example, symbols for currency like “$,” “€,” and “£” are universally recognized to mean “dollar,” “euro,” and “pound” respectively…mathematical symbols like “+” (plus), “<” (less than), and “π” (pi). While the spoken representation of these symbols may change according to the language, the symbols themselves transcend language barriers. 

Chinese characters are traditionally divided into six types, of which only a very small number are true logograms, representing a single word. Some of the oldest Chinese characters are stylized pictographs, like 人 for “man,” 木 for “tree,” or 山 for “mountain.” See below the Chinese characters for man, tree and mountain that actually look like the image of the word they represent.

 Person/Man: 人

Tree: 木

Mountain: 山

See below a fabulous installation at The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco titled Collected Letters by Qui Jianhua where a cascade of ceramic letters in Roman script and Chinese radicals that form Chinese characters appear to tumble down from the ceiling and dangle in midair suspended on an invisible string aptly dovetailing with my letter as they represent art, pictographs and the evolution of language, see exhibit below:

An Installation at The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco titled Collected Letters by Qui Jianhua

What is interesting to note is that while the Oxford Dictionary deals with current usage, the Oxford English Dictionary is a historical dictionary and it traces the development of words in the English language. Do see video pasted below:

And as a historical dictionary it is doing just the right job of following the natural progression of the English language not just in print and spoken form but in the most relevant of all forms and forums today: The World Wide Web! 

Now Roger, I ask what if language is not as it was, traditionally limited to one group, community, society or culture but is required to be widely disseminated, accessed and understood by the global community, what then should be the role and goal of this language? This is the world of today and this is the world of the internet. By incorporating the emoji as the word of the year, the OED is declaring that the English language has morphed and transcended into another dimension, the dimension most relevant today, the virtual world, the web. I say bravo and three cheers for the pundits behind this move, English is and will continue to be the lingua franca of the new realm, the new world for it does what language must primarily strive to do, help facilitate communication. Ironically, the word lingua franca come from the all pervasive/ prevalent language of the enlightened world- French, but and unfortunately, the French seem to be fighting on different battlefields. If I provoke, I do to get a response, would love to hear you Roger as we have discussed the evolution of language in the past, what are your views on this now? Tragically, my French is almost non-existent due to lack of usage.

The Eggplant Emoji 🍆

I would like to wrap up this discussion with something that made me roll on the floor with “face with tears of joy”. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud and absolutely had to share, it is also connected to a subject close to my heart:censorship. Well, during this journey through the internet chasing the emoji face with tears of joy, I came across an article that said that Instagram had banned/ censored the usage of an emoji of an eggplant. Yes, the image of an aubergine, eggplant, a vegetable has been censored. You are no longer permitted to send this innocuous looking  eggplant image on instagram as it is meant to represent a “penis”. Yes, the character of an eggplant in the modern world has the same sound as penis! This has resulted on another furore on the internet and liberal souls like myself are demanding that we FreeTheEggplant. Do see link below:

I find the world has come to a most ridiculous end when vegetables are being not only viewed as phallic symbols (even if the boys on tinder are liberally using the image of the eggplant must we all be denied?). Now, everytime I say, “I love eggplants, I would like to have an eggplant for dinner, I dream of having an eggplant meal”, I have to hold myself back to re evaluate my audience and its response. I have to ensure I am conforming to contemporary community standards before I ever read out a recipe from my vegetarian cookbook. As I read out the baby books I must censor strictly: A is for Apple, B is for Ball, C is for … (carrot? I’m not sure if even that is permissible as the dimensions don’t conform, for the Length is greater than the width. I am certain its on the not permitted list), D is for Dog and E is …NOT FOR EGGPLANT…help!!! I envision a censorship squad in our supermarkets blotting out the names of horse radishes, cucumbers, carrots and eggplants. Those of us who inquire as to its location are whipped on the hands by the grocery store staff. There is a censor squad sent to all kindergartens to ensure the books are correctly labelled and the inappropriate images of eggplants and other objectionable phallic vegetables excised with immediate effect. Roger, welcome to the universe of today, and tomorrow…you thought The Brave New World was bad wait for this edition! Do check out the vegetable song for kindergarteners that I played to my children but will probably not be able to play to my grandchildren, must watch I promise you will laugh with tears of joy:

The Vegetable Song:

The Vegetable Song for Kindergarteners

I have to sign off now Roger as I’m off for a funeral and I promise to leave all my eggplant images back home as I leave for this sombre occasion. But wait for me, Part II which is a continuation of the above is coming up and I promise you an incredible journey.

Ok, so I last left you with an eggplant in your hand. But this is serious stuff regarding censorship, what are these contemporary community standards and who gets to determine what appeals to the prurient interest. Does something banned on the internet/ instagram like the eggplant emoji get translated into eggplants being censored in the real world as discussed above and more relevantly for us today, things that we censor or ban in the real world, can that be directly translated into the internet and can we automatically ban the same. This question has been raised in numerous cases in the US courts where the site being banned questioned the community standards, and whether what is considered pornography in the real world may not translate directly into the virtual world as there are different standards. Well, hello, I’m very interested to know what these standards are and how are they different or the same. Is anyone out there? Can anyone hear me? Chinese, French, English, Emoji…anything??

Now Roger, even though I have given the OED my thumbs up, three cheers and bravo (and this may be because I’m innately inclined towards the Oxford Dictionaries as I was given my first copy by a Don of Oxford from the 1920’s and 30’s, do see my copy attached, and I’m very aware as I turn the pages that my fingerprints overlap his), as language stretches there are very grave issues that arise relating to the law to consider.

My grandfather Viswanathan’s OED below: Viswanathan’s Oxford English Dictionary

Viswanathan’s OED

Now I’m going to hold your hand as we become web ants and walk through the California Evidence Code. I do this in order to better understand our corpus of laws in this ever changing linguistic landscape, we have to ask some pivotal questions. The one that comes to the top of my mind in this context is “What is a writing?

Let’s say hypothetically, a legal document is under review, the question is whether it can be admitted into evidence. Let’s say its a will. What if that will was drafted by a goof ball (comme moi), who after adhering to all the legal requirements, signs off with the emoji “face with tears of joy”, relieved that the final task is done.

The question is…Have I invalidated the document by signing off with an emoji ?

My take: After all the emoji, face with tears of joy was the OED’s word of the year! It’s a word, if the oxford dictionaries said so, it has to be a word!! 

The question is: Is this a writing admissible as evidence (as defined under the evidence code)? 

See below the relevant sections of the California Evidence Code:

140.  “Evidence” means testimony, writings, material objects, or

other things presented to the senses that are offered to prove the

existence or nonexistence of a fact.

250.  “Writing” means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing, any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored.

Section 250 above “Writing” covers pictures and symbols as well. An emoji is certainly a picture, and possibly a symbol as well, it can certainly be understood as a combination of word, picture, symbol, so under the evidence code. I read the emoji “face with tears of joy” as a writing.

Now that we have answered the first question whether it is a writing, we have to ask if this is the writing we are talking about, ie, authentication. Let’s say the Will can be produced and authenticated. However, upon further inquiry relating to the content of the writing, I suspect we slip down a slippery slope

The question is whether by the insertion of this emoji, “face with tears of joy” which also has as an alternate meaning  LOL or “laughing out loud”, we are inserting ambiguity and invalidating the document. Even if the dictionary definition of the emoji is “face with tears of joy”, by the insertion of the emoji in the will could I be saying “This is not a Will” haha, laughing out loud. Or could I be creating a document that states, “She is a surgeon, Not” by inserting the emoji at the end of my letter of verification that confirms “She is a surgeon”. Though verbally stating sentences that end with Not, may now have become common parlance borrowed from slang, if the emoji serves to ridicule or disdain as many have claimed the emoji face with tears of joy does, it would destroy legal documentation forever!

So as we cheer, we have do so with caution, as it will impact much more than our language, it will impact our laws and the universe as we know it.

The Squirt Gun Emoji 🔫 (An excerpt from Purnima’s Emoji Paper to The CLA – a must read lol)- See a marked up screenshot of Jailbreak from The Emoji movie below also posted by me on Snap:

Marked up Screenshot of Jailbreak from The Emoji Movie
Purnima Enter The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Purnima at The Money Museum, Chicago
Purnima at The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago with the Squirt Gun Emoji

Do Check out Eric Goldman’s paper on Emojis and The law:

Goldman points out how this depiction diversity can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Unicode takes a somewhat lackadaisical approach to cross-platform compatibility

  •  it could attempt to sanction platforms that implement emojis so differently than the official Unicode outline that the meaning is changed, such as the Apple squirt gun implementation of a pistol firearm. Apple can offer its users a water gun emoji; but it can’t do so using the numerical code that Unicode assigns for the pistol emoji. Of course, Apple can choose not to implement the Unicode pistol emoji, though that will lead to recipients seeing the empty-square omission notice on incoming messages from other platforms (or the incoming emoji being omitted entirely). 

Purnima reflections: The other way to get around the Unicode Indexing system is by developing consensus across platforms as to the depiction of an image, then regardless of what a gun looks like in the real world in the world of emojis we would recognize its representation as a squirt gun. It now appears that not only has Apple kept a squirt gun emoji in the place of a pistol (weapon) but this has worked to persuade the other large platforms to do the same. Now Google, MS, Samsung, FB, Whattsapp, Twitter have squirt gun emojis in place of the gun symbol. However, this stream of reasoning doesn’t do much to resolve the underlying issue due to which the realistic gun image was converted to represent a toy- a squirt gun.  The squirt gun as we have seen above when used in conjunction with other realistic emoji weapon depictions is just as threatening and incur the same civil and criminal liabilities when used with the intent to threaten. 

In order to truly achieve the aim of denoting a gun (weapon) as a squirt gun, in addition to persuading all major platforms to adopt the squirt gun, it is imperative to eliminate all signs of the squirt gun from the real world – yes its time we wrestle away that squirt gun from our seven year olds hands and create a bonfire toy squirt guns. It is only in that instance that the image of a squirt gun (squirt gun emoji) could truly and absolutely represent the gun and claim the Unicode numerical code for the gun. The noble idea of eliminating the gun and all the mischief associated with it still remains a distant dream which this inversion doesn’t really solve.

In fact this inversion, representation of a gun by a squirt gun brings us back to the original question, how far are we willing to modify the real world to reflect our lives in the digital realm and in whom do we entrust this power. If an image is inverted in the digital realm, in order to maintain compatibility and coherence do we also accept corresponding inversions to our real world?  



A marked up screenshot of Purnima as Jailbreak from The Emoji movie below also posted by me on Snap

PS: Do Check out Jailbreak from The Emoji Movie below:


Blog Disclaimer 😛

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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