While vacationing, idle random thoughts on the potential influence of Unicode on 'alphabet soup'

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/12/25 10:16 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/12/25/6857659.aspx


If you are easily offended then please stop reading now....

I talk a lot.

And people who know me will verify this.

In fact, there are only four things I know of that will [ever] shut me up:

And so it goes -- if I am very quiet, people assume I am sick, though usually it is just that I am uncomfortable.

Every once in a while one of those rare comments comes across that tends to delight friends, and they know they have left me with nothing to say.

And then yesterday someone managed to do it in the Suggestion Box!

You see, rita (and yes, her name linked to the same place in her comment) asked over in the Suggestion Box:

how do techniques like "alphabet soup" work for other scripts in unicode? have you ever done anything like it?

When I saw it, I was stunned. There were no words.

I realized that there was probably no way to explicitly cover it. Maybe the other Sorting It All Out might have been able to do it, but given where I am hosted and all it just seems inappropriate.

I mean, I have teenagers reading here, and have to be careful. Therefore, I will speak in euphemism and avoid contributing too heavily to the delinquency of readers like Dean....

Now the purpose of "alphabet soup" style techniques is to provide a methodlogy for focusing coverage to a small area (the area in which one could fit a letter) in a way that allows for variety. By "drawing" the alphabet, someone without a clear idea on the best way achieve adequate coverage (or the creativity to inspire variety) has an easy (for lack of a better term) "color by numbers" method to obtain both.

I know people who swear by it as a (for lack of a better term) "teaching technique".

There is also an interesting benefit that I will explain via a segue into a brief story, for which I will push the stack for a moment so as to not (for lack of a better term) lose our place (also an important technique!):

In my early 20's when I was living in Connecticut, I was driving home one night after the bar we were all hanging out (called The Penalty Box, as I have mentioned before). I was stopped at a checkpoint where they were literally stopping everyone and giving sobriety tests, as part of a crackdown on drunk drivers.

Two of the things the cop asked me to do were: (a) say the alphabet without singing the song, and (b) say the alphabet backwards. The former is (according to him) difficult to do when one is intoxicate, and the latter is (again according to him) always difficult to do but people who are intoxicated are the one most likely to try and to reveal intoxication behaviors while doing so.

As a side note, I passed the first test 100% but for the second test was able to say the alphabet backwards, very quickly. The stunned police officer was himself speechless but I explained that I was working with elementary school aged kids and tricks like that helped to fuel young imaginations. Quite amused, he let me go home shortly after finishing all the tests -- they had a bunch of other drivers to get through this checkpoint....

Popping the stack back to "alphabet soup" one of the biggest potential drawbacks to the basic technique is that most partners would not be happy to know what was actually behind this (for lack of a better term) "directed meandering" so it is (a) best to not be singing or humming the song while doing it and (b) best not to have them recognize the actual letters, unless one shifts the game to spell specific (for lack of a better word) "fun" words -- perhaps ones that repeat (for lack of a better word) "fun" letters like M, O, and Z? -- and not the plain old alphabet.

Though even while I say this, I have at least one friend who claims that she even hearing the song has an impact on her because of extended "alphabet soup" time and a (for lack of a better word) Pavlovian response, which I guess proves that every rule has its exceptions.

And now, finally, we get to rita and the original question regarding Unicode and how it might fit here...

Now the many characters of Unicode do not specifically help, since Unicode has no real information about drawing the various letters. And the whole point of "alphabet soup" is largely about (for lack of a better term) "drawing the letters".

Perhaps one could develop some skill at taking advantage of the letters in some scripts, but the (for lack of a better word) "fluid" nature of "alphabet soup" is really suggestive a more calligraphic type of skill with letter forms (for lack of a better term) flowing naturally. This is something that knowledge of Unicode would likely not be specifically helpful with, other than choosing individual letters and (if there is no other way) teaching oneself how to draw them. While this could work, in general one needs to be able to concentrate more on applying the knowledge of drawing the letters that one already has, which can tend the limit of trying to seek out new letters one does not know, such as random letters that sponsor random blogs here.

However, there are specific potential advantages to using other scripts if you do know how to draw the letters of another language, for two reasons:

If you ask, I will deny any personal knowledge of what I am about suggest, but if you are thinking in this direction and you know some Japanese then considering slow Hiragana eventually transitioning into slightly more rapid Katakana, in iroha order if you can manage it (again, without reciting the poem!) for reasons that are very complicated to get into but if you look at the orders you might have some hints, really can inspire miracles. Similar effects are possible with most "curvy" scripts (e.g. the handwritten form of Hebrew, Tamil, Telugu, Georgian) moving into less curvy ones (e.g. Armenian, Bengali, Devanagari); the Latin alphabet really seems less suited to the whole effect though if you know no other alphabets then lowercase to uppercase and maybe sans-serif to serif might have the (for lack of a better word) "appropriate" impact....

Now that I'm done, to misquote a conversation between Ross and Chandler or Friends for a moment, if you don't know which authors you are in the mood to read more of now -- D.H. Lawrence or Peter T. Daniels/William Bright -- then please stay the hell away from my bookshelf!

Okay, I think I managed to work through my discomfort here.

If you are shocked that I posted this then welcome to the club. I think we are going to get jackets. :-)


This post brought to you byand(U+09e1 and U+09e0, aka BENGALI LETTER VOCALIC LL and BENGALI LETTER VOCALIC RR)

(these two letters fought all odds to fly home from Grand Cayman when they heard rumor of this post. Because no one loves "alphabet soup" more than intricate letters!)

All of the other characters in Unicode have taken off for Grand Cayman for the Christmas holiday weekend
(they are staying at the Marriott Grand Cayman Beach Hotel in case you are there and are curious at all the characters hanging out by the pool!)


# John Cowan on 25 Dec 2007 12:19 PM:

My family would probably be wondering why I'm giggling, except they're used to me giggling while sitting at the computer.  (My wife's talking to an old friend, my daughter's making pancakes (yum!))

# orcmid on 25 Dec 2007 12:22 PM:

There's no question I have had a sheltered life.  I remember the Campbells soup, but I have no idea what you are attempting to talk about without saying what it is.  From the clues, it would appear to be, shall we say, body language?

# rita on 25 Dec 2007 1:42 PM:

dictionary.com is not very helpful here, but the urban dictionary is. thanx 4 the insights!

# Mihai on 25 Dec 2007 3:56 PM:

You have teenagers reading, but you also have non-Americans.

And often I find it interesting to think about the differences :-)

In this case:

- I have no clue what the 'alphabet soup' is
- It would never cross my mind to sing the alphabet
- Saying the alphabet backwards is hard, but my assumption was that for a native is not that hard

Sometimes the age/timing is also important. If a certain word/alphabet game was popular at some point in time, but not at other times, a certain generation would be at advantage at certain type of tests.

Imagine the kids in that class, fascinated about the teacher being able to recite the alphabet backwards, practicing and being able to do it. Then growing up and puzzling another generation of police officers :-D

# Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Dec 2007 4:08 PM:

I did decide that (given the fact that the most unhappy group will be the ones who simultaneously understand and disapprove) the best tactic was to err on the side of fewer people understanding rather than more. :-)

Though I think this one as more universal potential for understanding than some other concepts....

# a.c. on 25 Dec 2007 8:20 PM:

michael, do you know japanese? have you really tried the alphabet using it? how about the other languages?

from the tv show mad about you:

jamie: how are you holding up?

paul  : well, if i had two more tongues, i'd be the happiest person on earth.

jamie : (lights a cigarette) second happiest.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Dec 2007 10:24 PM:

Hmmm..... yes, no comment, definitely no comment. :-)

I remember that episode, it was hilarious!

# Ian Boyd on 26 Dec 2007 2:00 PM:

Alphabet soup is a game similar to Boggle. The idea is you collect a random sample of glyphs from an alphabet, and try to form words.

It is typically done with only the 26 glyphs from the english alphabet. It gets much harder if you were to use a the full unicode glyph set.

Pervert :)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Dec 2007 4:18 PM:

rita's words:

how do techniques like "alphabet soup" work for other scripts in unicode? have you ever done anything like it?

rita wasn't referring to games, but to techniques. The meaning seems quite clear to me....

Plus later in a comment rita thanked me for the insights. I think I am mostly just as squeaky clean, at least as far as admissions go. :-)

# Ian Boyd on 27 Dec 2007 7:45 AM:

Techniques (i.e. algorithms) for forming words from the letters.  :)

Have you ever tried it? You shouldn't shrink from the task, but head in with full force. To play this game one needs to stand tall and fight hard. But please, if you win don't get too cocky.

And in this case, the length of the words do matter.

# dean on 28 Dec 2007 5:29 AM:

I knew what alphabet soup meant before I read this, but no one has let me try it. Yet!

# Michael S. Kaplan on 28 Dec 2007 1:29 PM:

Hi Dean!

Glad we're not contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It's funny that you got it when so many who are "older and wiser" did not. ;-)


referenced by

2015/07/27 She said 'I am going to tell you something a lot of guys don't know'

2015/02/04 Sorry, but Sorting it all Out has often been about sex for the last decade

2008/04/20 Alphabetically inappropriate emergencies

2008/04/09 I'm aware of that: an Andreaesque segue and intervention, of sorts

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