Wash Symbols and Iconography (was Re: Revised N2586R)

From: Kenneth Whistler (kenw@sybase.com)
Date: Mon Jun 23 2003 - 20:09:33 EDT

  • Next message: Christopher John Fynn: "Symbols and Iconography (was Re: Revised N2586R)"

    > At 23:33 +0200 2003-06-23, Philippe Verdy wrote:
    > >What about the many symbols used to signal how clothes can be cleaned,

    And Michael Everson responded:
    > A well-defined semantic set that I think deserves encoding. :-)

    If what you mean is:


    then some of those are *already* representable using currently encoded

            = dry clean with all standard methods
            = dry clean with perchloro-ethylene
            = dry clean with fluorine-solvent
            = do not dry clean
            = bleaching allowed

    And "delicate" is the sequence <25CB, 0332>, a large circle
    with an underscore. And so on.

    But as you can see if you visit that page, there is more than
    one standard for such icons -- a European standard and a
    Canadian standard. And for all we know, there might be others
    as well. The Canadian standard also color-codes the icons,
    which was one of Philippe's criteria for where these kinds
    of things clearly go over the line of what is appropriate
    for encoding as characters.

    And the "sethood" of a collection of arbitrary icons is not
    sufficient criterion for the "characterhood". Just because
    a group of symbolphiles can investigate and come up with
    a collection of these things, and just because these things
    are *printed* on labels for clothing does not ipso facto make
    them characters, any more than the various symbols and
    logos related to food (and other) packaging.

    Look again at the icons listed above at that site. Clearly, as for
    many such symbologies which are supposed to communicate
    *WITHOUT* language, we have interesting little pictographic
    logics embedded in the symbols to convey meaning. For
    instance, a pictograph of a hand iron with one, two, or
    three dots inside, supposed to convey the degree of heat
    of the iron. Or washtub pictographs with digits in them
    to convey water temperature (in degrees Celsius), or with
    a pictograph of a hand inserted to indicate "hand wash only".

    Such collections of icons are, generically, part of an ongoing
    process of the reintroduction of pictographs and (true)
    ideographs into writing, to solve commercial and regulatory
    issues of globalization. Pictographs proliferate across
    Europe because "Europe" the commercial and regulatory
    entity is becoming so multilingual that it is utterly
    unwieldy to require warnings, labels, and other important
    captions (and even instructions) in language-specific

    The alternative--to force everyone to use a dominant (or a
    few dominant) official languages--is not PC in Europe. Heck,
    it isn't even PC in the U.S., although it is almost
    official policy here.

    But the implication of this ongoing development needs to be
    *considered* by the character encoding committees -- not
    just be catered to, by "accident", as it were, by merely
    encoding as characters whatever nice little set of iconic
    symbols happens to attract our attention this week. There
    is a serious question here regarding what is plain text
    content and what is this "other stuff" -- an ongoing
    evolution of iconic and pictographic symbols that are
    intentionally, by design, disanchored from any particular
    language, and are instead intended to convey *concepts*

    I think we are at serious risk of "getting it wrong" if we
    just keep encoding sets of icons and pictographs as
    characters without clear evidence of their use *like*
    characters embedded in what is otherwise clearly plain
    text context.

    What is obvious is that all this stuff is in rapid ferment
    right now. Hundreds of agencies and organizations make these
    things up for all kinds of purposes, and which ones catch
    on and last and get used with text remains to be seen, in
    many instances. Further, looking a little more longterm,
    it is unclear where this stuff is headed over the next
    century. Will such symbols remain disjunct and be very
    product- or situation-specific, while turning over rapidly
    as technology or products or regulatory environments
    change? Will such symbols evolve towards a global,
    standardized, iconography-without-words, existing as a
    kind of universal visual sign language for the
    communication-impaired who don't share a common language?
    Will major existing writing systems evolve to incorporate
    more and more such symbols (either individually or globally)
    in a kind of mass reintroduction of pictographic and
    ideographic principles into writing systems?

    I don't know the answers to these questions. But I don't
    think that we should, as character encoding specialists,
    behave as if they don't matter for what we do. I don't
    think it is appropriate to just take a "Gee whiz! Let's
    encode that cute set of symbols!" approach to every list
    of these things that comes along, without considering
    more carefully what the Unicode Standard is for and
    how it is going to have to interact with these kinds
    of symbols in the future.


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