Category Archives: Jargon

Clear Ideas, Tangible Feelings — Alphabet versus Emoji

(#11 of 27)


Revisiting a quote from Gustave Flaubert,

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”  

If Flaubert were alive today, he would be absolutely appalled by the rampant usage of emoji.

He’d say that emoji are a verbal crutch, a way to get out of clarifying and communicating exactly what we think.

“Vague. Lazy. Trite. A slippery slope to incoherent illiteracy,” he’d declare… except he’d declare that in French… and no doubt deploying le mot juste to deliver a devastating denouement of instant messaging patois.


Yet, for all my Flaubertian appetites and tendencies (minus some of his personal choices — we can discuss that another time), for all my aspirations of becoming a worthy wordsmith, I happen to think that emoji have great potential.

Untapped potential, in fact.


Emoji after RockwellBut first, please read the New York magazine article, “Smile, You’re Speaking EMOJIThe rapid evolution of a wordless tongue,” by Adam Sternbergh. It provides an essential understanding of what emoji are, where they come from and how they can be used.

For Sternbergh, emoji are…

  • a new form of punctuation
  • non-verbal communication frozen and standardized into unicode characters
  • a constructed language that breaks through global linguistic barriers
  • user-specified hieroglyphs
  • yet another example of the disproportionate influence of Japanese culture, with all of its positivist biases and kawaii peculiarities, on the rest of the world  (not unlike the disproportionate British influence on world culture via the English language… what is up with these island nations…)
  • an efficient compressor & transmitter of complex, unspeakable emotions

I’d add to that list the following possibilities:

Let’s be clear, however:  Some people don’t like emoji, and don’t want to be usin’ none of this newfangled language.

emoji-angrypurpledevilEmoji Haters

“The word, although prevalent in our day, has lost its reasoning value, and has value only as an accessory to images.


“These related images provide me with practical content: a common truth that is especially easy to swallow because the ready-made images that showed it to me had been digested in advance.

Make no mistake here: this is how modern people usually think. We are arriving at a purely emotional stage of thinking.”

– Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (1981)

There are people who avoid using emoji out of a desire to maintain clarity of thinking… or at least, clarity of a certain kind of thinking.  The concern here is that, by using emoji instead of words, they will miss opportunities to refine their thoughts and improve their ability to articulate themselves in writing. According to this view, the round-faced glyph is an enemy of reason and rationality. McLuhan would agree, albeit gleefully.

However, I’d offer that if a person refuses to use emoji — but then uses emoticons anyway — then they’re not so much sticklers for language and reason as much as they’re mainly/vainly concerned about not being taken seriously.

Is there really that big a difference between this… emoji-wink

…and this…?   emoticon-wink



*smiles and winks*


Well, okay, I sorta get it… maybe it’s similar to the way that I’m a font snob. My distaste for tasteless typefaces might be analogous to their eschewing of smiley faces… and girly-girl bubble-hearts, shooting stars, rainbows, blue diamonds… emoji are often used like stickers, only without the scratch-and-sniff.

That said, even with my puritanical zeal for Helvetica, I can’t fully empathize with the emoji-haters. There is absolutely no reason (no reason!!) to use the abomination known as Comic Sans (or its close cousin, the horrible Hobo STD!!) in ordinary graphic communication, whereas expressing immediate visceral adoration for something with the image of heart-filled eyes is truly indispensable. How ELSE can you do THAT??


But, that’s just, like, my opinion, dude.

Question for you, the reader, to reflect upon: As you read this blog post, does the fact that it is interspersed with emoji-related images make it easier for you to read, or harder?

Do the pictures break up the monotony of text for you, or do they otherwise distract from your reading focus?

Also: How does your understanding of the author’s tone and intent get affected by all of these goofy little pictures?

A new dictionary definition to consider:

Emoji – n. – A way to connect directly between limbic systems, circumventing the pesky, stifling cerebral cortex.

emoji-lightbulbHow do I emoji? Let me count the ways…

Here are just three of the ways we can say good night, via text message:




Although each of the above messages conveys the same general idea using the same medium (instant text messaging), each message also provides a different feeling and activates a different sub-medium, i.e. a different form of reading/looking and thinking.

McLuhan differentiated between television, large-screen television, and stadium-television-with-instant-replay.  If he were around today he’d have a field day with all the different ways we can play with our emoji.

A good rule of thumbing:  Use the style and type of emoji that your conversational partner is comfortable with.  Just as you would with other aspects of communication, over time you’ll tend to develop a distinctive dance with each of your conversational partners.

Another idea that, if it hasn’t already been done, will be done:


Build your own library of emoji using your own pictures. This would make the communication feel more personal and less trite… although it would also undercut the power inherent to cartoons, i.e. how a simple drawing causes the reader/viewer to project themselves into the image and fill it with the details of their own head-universe.

emoji-finger-to-fingerClash of the Text Titans, and a conclusion

It’s true, I love Flaubert. I aspire to his command of language and to his discipline of clearly defining and articulating what he really thinks. I enjoy his elegant economy of words. Flaubert wants his reader to become an aristocrat.

However, I also love McLuhan and share his not-so-secret disdain for the unimaginatively fragmented style of thinking inherent to alphabetized hyper-literacy, as well as his crush for sensual new forms of multi-modal, multi-faceted communication.  And yes, I enjoy his dense, heavily referenced and meta-aware sentence style. McLuhan wants his reader to become an anthropologist.


I think Flaubert and McLuhan would agree on some things, though.

I think they would agree that the alphabet and the icon are two completely different things.

They’d also agree that being lazy sucks.

So go ahead… use emoji.

Hell, use expletives too.

But try to use them artfully and with purpose.

“The art of emoji is the art of letting others embrace what you’re feeling.”

– Not Flaubert

How does that grab you?



Urban Shinrin-yoku (都会の 森林浴) : Top Places to Destress in the City

Shinrin-yoku (森林浴) is a Japanese for “forest bathing,” something that I’ve always enjoyed doing, even though I didn’t know that there was a word for it.

Every language contains its own set of focal vocabularies, that is to say, a set a specialized words to describe — with great precision — the sorts of things that the culture considers important enough to elaborate upon.  The old myth about “eskimos having words for snow” would be good example of this concept, were it not factually incorrect… at least compared to English, which has a flurry of its own flakey variants (hmmm… anyone know how many words for snow there are in Classical Arabic, or maybe the Saharan languages?)   Typically, the economic activities of a given group of people will cause that group to generate large quantities of specialized words pertaining to their field of practice. For example, software programmers have their own vocabulary, as do lawyers, architects, herdsmen, dairy farmers, etc.  However, outside of the area of expertise, such an expanded focal vocabulary does not typically serve much purpose (despite my belief that there are no true synonyms).

Then, once in a while, along comes a culture with certain peculiarities which — eureka! — cause it to generate a single, unique term that delightfully captures some phenomenon or aspect of the human condition.

For example, Schadenfreude (delight in another person’s misfortune) and L’esprit d’escalier (coming up with a witty comeback too late, after the conversation), are words that perhaps only the Germans and the French could have come up with, and yet, these words have a certain  je-ne-sais-quoi universal appeal (..and yes, I’m still on the lookout for a language that has deemed it important enough to describe The DANdelion™ Effect.).

There is great pleasure in discovering that particular, seul mot juste, for that thing which you never knew had a name.

What is Shinrin-yoku ?

Thanks to Mysending’s blog, I recently learned about a Japanese term — Shinrin-yoku — which describes a favorite pastime, which is immersing myself in a heady botanical space, the more Dagobah-like, the better.

I started doing this as a kid, and I still do it today, especially when I feel trapped in a harsh urban or edge-city environment.

It’s a simple, three-step process:

Step One: Recognize the Stress Signs

I’m stuck in rush-hour traffic, somewhere in the outskirts of Tampa, Florida, right after a thunderstorm in the late afternoon, on a six-lane road surrounding by fast-food chains, strip malls and automobile dealerships. My cellphone connection is spotty, I’ve just completed a tense and counter-productive conference call with a client and I have a wee bit too much caffeine in my system. Hot mess.  The air outside is a torrid mixture of humidity and vehicle exhaust, and the air circulating in my cheap rental car is frigid and stale, with notes of artificially-scented deoderizer.

The sun is setting, casting an angry yellow glow through the smog.

A double rainbow is forming overhead, between the visual pollution of telephone wires and traffic signals.

I want out.

Step Two: Find a Green Patch

I open up my GPS-enabled map and note that it indicates a large patch of green on it, not far from where I am.  That’s what I usually do: Find a wide expanse of green on the map, preferably surrounding some irregularly shaped patches of blue, with the words “conservation land” or “state park” or “national forest” near it.

In this case the words are unfamiliar — “Lettuce Lake” — but the shape of the green and blue blobs on the map look promising. Also, I have a heavenly sign: One end of the rainbow happens to be pointing right in the direction of where I want to go.

Step Three: Soak In It, Soak It In

By the time I arrive, the park ranger tells me there’s only 15 minutes before the park closes (at dusk… apparently that’s when the alligators and coyotes start their wild rumpus) and that it might not be worth the entry fee.

It’s worth it.

Sometimes, all you need is 15 minutes.

Too much polution? Seek the Phytoncide Solution

Here’s a description of Shinrin-yoku and its health benefits: 

Forest bathing

The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku may literally mean “forest bathing,” but it doesn’t involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic (or bathing) effect. Most of us have felt tension slip away in the midst of trees and nature’s beauty. But science now confirms its healing influence on the body. When you spend a few hours on a woodland hike or camping by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost your immune system.

(source.  )

(cf. )

For the even more scientifically-minded, read the pubmed article, “Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku” (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan,” by Y. Tsunetsugu, B.J. Park, and Y. Miyazaki  (, which is a meta-study of research on the physiological effects of forest environments (or isolated elements of those environments, e.g. cedar wood, running water, foliage) on the different senses, e.g. visual, auditory, olfactory, and  tactile.

In any case, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a climate and location that has large, immersive forests and wetlands, you now have one more “scientifically proven” reason to feel lucky.

But what if you’re an urban dweller?

What if you’re surrounded high-rise towers, mid-rise walk-ups and/or low-rise wastelands of never-ending concrete, metal and plastic?

What if your city is Montreal, Canada?

What if you live in a place where one-third of the year resembles a cold, dry, flash-frozen asphalt tundra? ..where the air around you does not provide anything in the way of phytoncides… but rather, acts like a Dementor, sucking all the heat and moisture right out of your nose?

Best Places for Shinrin-yoku, in Cold Cities

Most major cities have a botanical garden… and within that botanical garden, a glass-enclosed microclimate such as a greenhouse, palm house, or if you can get one, a fern house.  These are the places to go to, in order to get your shinrin-yoku fix.  I’ve made a habit of checking in to these spots when visiting a city, when times allows for it.

Here are some instances of urban shinrin-yoku that I’ve enjoyed over the years — some of these are well-known attractions, some of these are lesser-known local spots:

The Montreal Biodome — check out the simulated rainforest environment, trees, flowers, monkeys, the whole nine yards…. used to be a bicycle racetrack

The IBM Building — in Montreal at 1250 René-Lévesque: atrium of soaring bamboo against backdrop of miserable grey slushy roadways… ’nuff said

Allan Gardens — in Toronto, palm house FTW

Cloud Forest Conservatory — a postage-stamp-sized refuge in the heart of downtown Toronto

Kew Gardens — a giant of London, max humidity to be found in the Water Lily House

Class of 1959 Chapel — at Harvard Business School, another small refuge  in a cold, cold place… waterfalls, papyrus plants and koi fish provide healing for the non-denominational soul…   the interior courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is nice too, if you like a more Mediterranean environment

San Antonio Botanical Garden — well, not exactly a cold city, but it includes one of the best conservatories, complete with a steamy fern house

The Eden Project is still on my bucket list.

Where else?

The DANdelion™ Effect

What word (existing or newly coined) would you use to describe nature’s incremental opportunistic tenacity, that is to say, the tendency for life to exist wherever it can, as quickly as it can, whenever the smallest opportunity presents itself?
  1. The vegetation that sprouts up in between cracks in the sidewalk, or along the edge of the road where a small film of dirt has accumulated.
  2. Earth’s biosphere, which is teaming with life, exists in a razor-thin edge between a massive planetary ball of molten rock and the vast cold emptiness of space.
  3. Parties in the type of armed conflict where they simply seek to take hold of the next building or deliver the next blow to their enemy (eg. nomadic warfare).
  4. People who show up for work every day, despite not being sure what their long-term plan is.

sidewalk cracks may be larger than they appear - especially if you are a norway maple seed

Does the English language have a word for this, and if not, what would that word look or sound like?
Perhaps there is something in another language that English could borrow? Perhaps a botanical term with Latin roots, or more likely, an existing word in German that already captures this? After all, German is the language that brought us words like Gesamtkunstwerk, Innerer SchweinehundSäuglingsgeschrei, and Rechtschreibreform.

Initially,  I was going to tackle this exercise alone, but then, I remembered the success of a previous crowd-sourcing/online collaborative learning experiment. I said to myself, “Surely the sum of intelligence of the Facebook Peanut Gallery would outperform anything that I, a mere wannabe bon vivant blogger, could come up with?”

der Bürgersteig Unkraut-Effekt

Well, the Peanut Gallery did not disappoint.  Thanks to the creative input of AlizaR, AryehT(MiniP), AviS, BenB, ColinS, DannyS(one of the other ones), DovS, ElyS, GilY, JasonL, LevP, MattL, and NaregA we now have many candidate terms.
The first entry came from GilY, in a fine example of his Fantastically Excellent Acronymic Talents. He proposed the the following:
“It’s the L.O.O.S.E. strategy: Leveraged-Optimistic-Opportunities-Strategic-Emergence..which is much better than the T.I.G.H.T.S. strategy: Try-Imagining-Goals-Helping-Tactical-Successes.

Just be L.O.O.S.E..”

Gil’s snackable acronymous pairing nicely sums up a key element of this concept: it’s about eschewing the engineered approach of “measure twice and cut once” and instead saying, “measure never, commence cutting at once!”  Opportunism. Expediency. Que-sera-sera-ism.
Another key element of this concept is a kind of natural vitality, the ability to quickly spread, and not just spread, also to grow and develop despite of — or perhaps because of — the difficult conditions that are presented.  Here is a little crack in the pavement.  Who knows what will happen next… but who cares… let’s fill it and grow.
Joining those two elements of opportunism and vitality is the idea of self-reinforcing success:  Once the organism takes hold in the otherwise hostile environment, it begins to make that environment more hospitable for itself and other organisms.
"Let's play Rock-Scissors-Tree... Tree beats Rock!"

As suggested by the L.O.O.S.E. acronym, this is a form of “Strategic Emergence” where the short term moves accumulate to form the long term strategy.

Even “failure” is a victory, as the detritus of the earlier attempts at growth — layers of dead plant material, for example — provide fodder for the next attempt.
So, what term to use for these ideas?
Aggressively incremental organic growth?   Hyperincrementavivosity?
In English we have words for all sorts of combinations of concepts. Let’s find one for this set here, too.

Pick a Word, Any Word

Listed below are what the rest of the Facebook Peanut Gallery had to say, with the most votes (including my personal veto-vote)  going to DannyS’ proposed trademarkable term, The DANdelion™  Effect.  In the spirit of weedosity, I’ve sprinkled in a few extra terms, especially wherever there was an alphabetical gap in the Collective Wisdom:

Aggressive Marginal Advancement
DANdelion™  Effect
der Bürgersteig Unkraut-Effekt
Just Do It
L.O.O.S.E. Strategy
Luceat et Crescat
Measure Never, Cut  Nonce!
Occasionem Cognosce
Put Your Junk In The Box
Silicon Valley circa 2000
Vivat, Crescat, Floreat!
WALL-E ism
Xeriscapic Creep
Some participants in this brainstorming exercise called out the more malignant, viral/cancerous associations of this concept, which reminded me of our friend Agent Smith in the Matrix who had the following dark opinion of humanity:
Notwithstanding Agent Smith’s naively romantic views of mammalian ecology (he obviously never experienced life amongst rats in the city… or deer in the suburbs… or rabbits in Australia…) I thought that the Matrix movie writers did a nice job closing the loop of this memorable introduction of the cybernetic villain, with his “Humans-are-a-Cancer” diatribe: By the final movie, Agent Smith has himself become the worst kind of self-replicating contagion, a black tar that has spread everywhere, sticking to everything. This dandy word that we’re looking to smith is so much more than Agent Smith… but he does offer a cautionary tale of uncontrolled growth.

Coming Around Full Circle: The Backstory

Back in October, I was walking in Lower Manhattan on my way to deliver a program at a banking client. The markets had been rough lately, the Taliban was blowing up things again in Afghanistan, and the people in nearby Zuccotti Park were chanting in the face of Wall Street.
As I passed the building of a particularly noteworthy client who had been on the receiving end of disproportionately extra-large portion of populist anger, I watched a steady stream of employees arriving at work early — their suits pressed and their faces a mixture of stolid and resolute expressions — a phalanx of workers getting set to keep the markets moving, one little bit at a time, despite everything else that was going on.  Way above across the street, I could see a crane slowing pulling up materials to rebuild the World Trade Center, one little bit at a time.
I thought about how this wasn’t just the way of building things, but also the way of subverting things, too.  I had just heard the morning news with the all-too-familiar report of the Taliban’s latest misdeeds… in this case, they had killed some fellow Afghanis who were waiting outside the police recruitment center. This daily game of fighting for the next house, looking to inflict the next wound on the enemy, it was a destructive mirror image of what was happening here in Manhattan.
I thought about dandelions in the sidewalk, and how people sometimes reach a certain point in their career where it stops being about getting everything right… it becomes just about getting the next little victory… the next little bit of “win.”
I thought that’s it’s just like many other things in nature, how it’s the kind of thing that is both beautiful and tragic — at times so correct and at other times so wrong — the ideal approach in some ways, yet so limited in other ways.
Yes, it’s the kind of thing that deserves its own word.

Word Power!

Over 150 students have enrolled in my “Word Power: Vocabulary Builder” course on SpacedEd.

Try it out at:

…it’s fun, fast, free, and colloquially expansive!

Dept of Abused Terminology: The “Aha!” Moment

Ah, the “aha” moment…  while currently only garnering about 199,000 results on Google, in the circles of training and education where I live, the phrase “Aha Moment” has definitely crossed the annoying- phrase threshold and is well on its way to the point of no return… somewhere between “multi-modal” and “at the end of the day.”

Recently, I heard someone use the term 3 or 4 times in the span of about 30 seconds. (David G has me wondering if that is more like a “haha moment” ?)   Well, I’m officially adding “aha moment” to my secret Learning & Development Jargon Bingo Card… it’s right next to “stakeholder” and “learning style” and nestled underneath “subject matter expert”  (aka, SME, a TLA which is pronounced it’s ugly phonetic-rendering of “smeeee”).

The Aha Moment —  also known as an “sudden insight” or “epiphany” (yes, there’s a perfectly good existing word out there, folks) — is the holy grail of the edutainer (cf. Wikipedia, cf. XKCD) who is addicted to the experience of creating awesome, relevant, life-changing moments in the lives of their audience/learners… however fleeting those moments of glory may be.

Apparently, while Mutual of Omaha has tried to own the term, so has Oprah Winfrey, leading them to a legal dispute last year about who owns the right to speak these poor, abused words of the English language.  You might say that Oprah and Mutual of Omaha had a bit of a  pipe wrench fight…  because, as a friend (props @Lev P) suggested to me, whenever I hear someone use the term “AHA MOMENT,” I should start humming that classic tune from the 1980s…

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