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By Maarten van Swaay

More and more the world tries to leave me out of breath. First it was
cursive writing, then keyboards. Now even words appear in danger of being
‘thrown under the bus’ – a graphic metaphor that seems to have displaced
mere description. On June 12, the Wall Street Journal ran an ‘a-hed’ piece
on the popularity of ‘stickers’ - not merely the sticky things one used to
find on the work of grade-schoolers, but now also little images that have
found their way onto smart phones.

The a-hed is a long-running feature of WSJ that flies in the face of
its reputation as a stodgy business publication. It has always been
on the front page, where it got its name from its heading that was offset
by a pattern that could be read as an ‘A’. On most days the topic is
a bit whimsical, including such things as traffic signs for frog crossings.

Not long ago I wrote about an ‘app’ – ‘application’ apparently is too long
a word for today’s time-pressed thumbers – that attempts to replace an
entire keyboard with just four pads on the screen. Now even those four
pads may be pushed aside by some whimsically selected ‘sticker’, e.g.,
a wombat or a cute – or not-so-cute – bunny. What those mean, or should
mean, is anybody’s guess; maybe we should see them as the ultimate
inside joke. But if the purpose of language is the sharing of thought,
then an inside joke would be a very poor substitute. Granted, some popular
forms of ‘language’ do not carry much information either: “So I go, like,
you-know-what-I-mean”. One would hope that the listener is gulled into
believing he knows: if he were to ask, the speaker might quite possibly
stand mute, or sound like a howler monkey. Duhhhh -:)