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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. luna
    April 29, 2019 @ 1:30 pm



  2. DC
    April 29, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

    OK, I can barely read this, given all the broken symbols, and even if they were working I’m practically emoji illiterate anyway, but nevertheless!! This was a brilliant thing to do, El, well done 😁


  3. Jesse
    April 29, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

    I guess my biggest question is what 🤯 is supposed to mean.

    Don’t get me wrong—there are other swaths of this that are only barely comprensible to me, even after I’ve blown up the screen to 175%. (That is the chief reason I hate emojis: I frequently have to squint hard to figure out what they’re supposed to look like even before I start to think about what they’re supposed to represent.) But that one is the most puzzling.


    • Paul
      April 29, 2019 @ 2:41 pm

      I think it’s not being used to mean anything on its own here, but instead it’s being used together with two other emoji to mean “emoji”, i.e. “is the use of emoji in a way that amounts to a commentary on one’s mood”.


      • Jesse
        April 29, 2019 @ 3:00 pm

        It’s not always by itself, though—there are also spots like “at worst just outright 🤬 racist.”


        • Jesse
          April 29, 2019 @ 3:01 pm

          Arg: I meant to type “It’s sometimes by itself,” not “It’s not always by itself.”


    • mx_mond
      May 6, 2019 @ 7:18 am



  4. Angus
    April 29, 2019 @ 2:54 pm

    Oh god, my brain doesn’t like this at all.


  5. Brian B.
    April 29, 2019 @ 3:05 pm

    I, happily, was able to read this, and unfortunately to agree with its extremely well-made critique (even though I myself am an old white dad who doesn’t emoji at a deeper level than the bots do). I even was able to figure out “eggplant assault” the second time you did the eggplant. What the blazes is “my gender is attack helicopter”, though?

    At a quibble level: there’s no contradiction in the Doctor identifying the Vardi as a species — the bots were before, and remain, communication tools (the colonists shot at the actual micro-swarm Vardi). There is, though, a massive and obnoxious contradiction between “the Earth sent out a variety of colony ships, I met several in prior Doctor Who stories” and, barely a minute or two later, “These are the last remnants of the human race”. I dislike condescending upping-the-stakes moments like that.


    • Brian B.
      April 29, 2019 @ 5:03 pm

      Oh wait. Just remembered “My gender is attack helicopter” is some transphobic joke — a Google search confirms that it’s common enough to be on Know Your Meme, even. I’ve heard it because of Gareth Roberts using it around you, I bet, right? Ugh.


    • Rodolfo Piskorski
      May 4, 2019 @ 1:50 pm

      It’s supposed to be an Apache Helicopter, which is a war helicopter, I think. The initial joke is that nowadays people can just identify as whatever so this person said they identify as an Apache helicopter…


  6. Christopher Brown
    April 29, 2019 @ 4:08 pm

    A new 💯 for the Eruditorum. Well 👨‍🍳ed.


  7. James Sommerville
    April 29, 2019 @ 4:34 pm

    Very troubling that this entry is intelligible to me. 💩💩💩


  8. Lambda
    April 29, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

    Reading this reminds me of reading Japanese as a moderately decent learner. For the uninitiated, almost every native word in it beyond grammatical stuff is made up of a combination of kanji, of which there are about 2000 in common usage. Each kanji has one or more meanings associated with it. So once you know the meanings of the 2000 kanji, most completely unfamiliar words can nevertheless be guessed at. For instance, you might be able to guess with a little context that 蛇口, snake-opening, is a tap. The point of which is mostly that the effect of emojis on language is going to vary a great deal depending on the sort of language. English doesn’t normally have pictographs in, but that’s not true of all languages.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      April 29, 2019 @ 4:55 pm

      It’s notable that emoji caught on in Japan well before they did in English-speaking countries.


      • Sleepyscholar
        April 30, 2019 @ 1:17 am

        Indeed; the word ’emoji’ is Japanese!


        • AG
          April 30, 2019 @ 6:08 pm

          Emoticons were in English fairly early on, though ASCII art was usually more than one line. Still, the complexities of basic emoticons grew quickly, with 🙂 picking up sarcasm connotations, for example.

          But there definitely is something to be said for how simply having a greater set of characters available to type pushed Japan to take single-line character “art” much further than English emoticons, such as ¯_(ツ)_/¯, /人◕ ‿‿ ◕人\, or (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ .

          (>’-‘)> <(‘-‘<) ^(‘-‘)^ v(‘-‘)v(>’-‘)> (^-^)


          • Daibhid C
            May 1, 2019 @ 6:24 pm

            Anyone else remember the ASCII 🦔s that used to litter Usenet signatures back in the day? Or was that only on

      • Rodolfo Piskorski
        May 4, 2019 @ 1:57 pm

        It’s an interesting that this essay could easily segue into a discussion of Derrida and writing. One of his main points was that Europeans should have revised their understanding of writing (and hence of language) when they encountered non-phonetic writing. Derrida argues that so-called linear, phonetic writing is not purely so, and that any writing system shows some traits of the non-phoneticism of Chinese writing, for example. Also, that these traits have always already been right there in language itself, even “before” writing. It’s what he called writing before the letter (avant la lettre — it’s such a cool pun!). Of course, he also argued that even ideograms are already a bit phonetic just like alphabetical writing is already a bit non-phonetic (spacing and punctuation are good examples).


  9. Greg S.
    April 29, 2019 @ 5:06 pm

    I originally interpreted (knife) the (moon) as “cut the cheese.”


  10. Aaron
    April 29, 2019 @ 5:21 pm

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Part of me was hoping this would be a full on emoji text in the style of the late carrie fishers tweets but this is probably the better option. I really liked how the doctor emoji was sometimes male sometimes female as well.

    One thing that I always associate with this episode but wasn’t really mentioned by you here is that I remember some of the promotional material around this saying that Boyce allegedly did actual research into current AI developments. However this mainly seems to have resulted in the Vardy getting their name from Andrew Vardy who works in the field of swarm AI. I myself am currently completing my bachelor in AI and while swarm behaviour certainly isn’t the coolest thing out there it is nice to see that they tried and that the episodes doesn’t go down the “All AI is evil” route as scifi usually does. The idea of treating AI as a new form of life is pretty wildly accepted in the field from my experiences, just a shame that the episode doesn’t really do much to be convincing about it except have the doctor say a few lines about it. The fable to explain the plot device always seemed a bit meh to me here seeing as moffat did it much better in heaven sent.


  11. CJM123
    April 29, 2019 @ 6:14 pm

    Has anyone here heard of Book from the Ground by Chinese artist Xu Bing? It’s a book written entirely in an adapted form of Emoji designed to be “easily” read by most people in the world.

    Also, what’s The 😄💂‍♀️ ? I couldn’t figure that out even though I got ever other title pretty quickly.

    Finally, what was wrong with the Isle of Wonder opening ceremony? I can barely remember it and most people liked it.


    • Greg S.
      April 29, 2019 @ 6:49 pm

      It took me a while too, but that is “Happiness Patrol.”


    • Sleepyscholar
      April 30, 2019 @ 1:31 am

      I use the Isles of Wonder ceremony in a class about UK culture and current affairs, mainly because it provides a succinct and entertaining demonstration of British self-image — self-delusion and all — prior to the Brexit clusterfuck. I wouldn’t defend it as great art, but I am curious what the criticism of it is here. In the context of what subsequently happened to the UK it is surprisingly inclusive and political. It provides a pretty visceral representation of what the Industrial Revolution did to the country, and the appearance of Windrush as a cause for celebration in modern Britain (is that the issue? A jibe about the colonised making money from the coloniser?) prefigures aptly the emergence of the eponymous scandal.


  12. Nindokag
    April 29, 2019 @ 11:50 pm

    :clap: :clap: :clap: Bravo! This is brilliant!
    I’m really enjoying the puzzle aspect. There’s a couple i haven’t figured out yet:

    “we get stories like 🚗⬅️ or ➖ whose genius is…”
    (“Turn Left” and… “minus?” “black bar?” I’m gonna get it any minute now and then smack my forehead.)

    ” it constitutes an 👺 reactionary tendency”

    I’m completely stumped by what “an [Tengu Mask] reactionary tendency” could possibly mean.

    “its more 💡 version is not 👻 the 📺 version”

    This in contrast was perfectly clear. I would not read ghost-emoji as “haunting” if any other author wrote it, but I’ve read enough of Dr. Sandifer’s writing to be trained to expect phrases…

    As for the episode itself… the emoji robots gesture towards something relevant and timely, namely: the danger of building a system that optimizes for the wrong thing. By eliminating unhappy people they were taking the shortest path to their goal of raising average happiness. This is essentially what silicon valley has been guilty of doing over the last decade; think of youtube/facebook/twitter optimizing for “engagement” and what we get is rage-clicks, disinformation, epistemic bubbles and conspiracy-theory rabbit-holes.

    I’d love to see an episode that was actually ABOUT that thing instead of just gesturing towards it. But the ending is the resolution of a completely different story (about treating the robots as an indigenous life form?) from the one that was set up. It doesn’t even add ress the same issues. It’s one of the most frustrating disconnects between brilliant set-up and non-sequitur resolution this side of “The Lie of the Land” or “Kerblam”. all three of those episodes are like negative “narrative substitution” — they take away the story we thought we were telling to substitute a worse one.


    • CJM123
      April 30, 2019 @ 11:56 am

      ➖ is “Flatline”. Took me a while to get that one.

      I just read 👺 as “masked” as opposed to 💥’s open one.

      I hope it isn’t too much against the spirit of things to openly unpick this in the comments though.


    • Kim
      April 30, 2019 @ 12:46 pm

      This took me ages as well but – “Flatline”


      • Kim
        April 30, 2019 @ 12:47 pm

        …. oh, bit late to the party here, heh


  13. Kit
    April 30, 2019 @ 6:04 pm

    “👩🏻‍🎤 don’t expect the 🇬🇧📺 to use things like 🍑 or 🍆 in a 👨‍👨‍👧‍👦 show, but from 😁 you wouldn’t 💭 that 🧐🤧😜 have things like 🦄, 🏵, or 🚡.”

    Well, 🚫 – it’s emoticons in 😁, not emoji (until the punchline of 🤑). 1️⃣ can speculate on whether this was simplification to quickly communicate with the broad audience, or just that FC🅱️ is 👴 as ⚽⚽🔮.

    Seconding the 👏👏 for this 📄, although Bill’s emoji didn’t show up in Chrome. ✂️🔜🔥🦊❗


    • Daibhid C
      May 3, 2019 @ 5:52 pm

      It doesn’t work in 🔥🦊 either, or at least not for me. I get 👩🏾‍[ ], since it doesn’t recognise the curly hair modifier for some reason. It also doesn’t recognise the red hair modifier so Amy is 👩🏻‍[ ] the first time and 👩🏼‍ [ ] the second.

      Weirdly, I can see them properly if I paste them into 🐦.


  14. Matthew Parsons
    May 1, 2019 @ 7:06 am

    The last two emojis in that Web Planet bit are the whole reason I read this blog. Bravo.


  15. Daibhid C
    May 1, 2019 @ 6:27 pm

    🦇💩, but in a 👍 way.


    • Daibhid C
      May 2, 2019 @ 7:42 pm

      The 📄, that is, not the 📺, in case that wasn’t clear. My reaction to the 📺 was somewhere between 😐 and😕with occasional 🙂.

      As far as 😕 goes: My main ❓❓ at the time were “If the 🤖 think 😪 is ☣, how did the 👩‍👩‍👧‍👦 have enough time to set up the 👵 ⚰️ Interactive Experience before they were 💀?” and “How were people whose 🌎 was 💀 never 😭 before?” (And “How did the 👩‍🔬 who programmed the 🤖 not 💭 of this?”, but if you’re going to complain that a 👩‍⚕️❓ story relies on 👨‍🔬 not 💭 things through, you’ll be there all 📆.)

      It was one of those 📺 I kind of liked, but despite the actual story, not because of it — the 👨‍⚕️and Bill were 👍, and I 😍 the 🏙. And I liked the way it ended with them arriving at the ❄🎪, like it’s the Hartnell era and every 📺 ➡️ into the next.

      (Also, it says the 👩‍⚕️ is a 👮. 🙄.)


  16. Lovecraft In Brooklyn
    May 4, 2019 @ 7:57 am

    I clicked over to this just as Janelle Monae sang ‘emoji’, which is a bit creepy. I can’t really understand this because I don’t use emojis.


  17. Przemek
    May 14, 2019 @ 12:31 pm

    Bravo. I’d use the “clap” emoji, but I don’t know how to use emojis on this blog (or even if I can do that at all).

    This essay made me feel quite old as I realized I still call emojis “emoticons” and that I barely use them for anything other than conveying mood or sarcasm. It would’ve never occured to me to use the food emojis to indicate what I’m having for dinner… In fact, I don’t think I’ve used a food emoji in my entire life. Huh. On the other hand, I understood all but 3 emojis in this essay, so maybe I’m more weird than old?

    The part about imagining new parts of language being an almost impossible task is very interesting to me. There’s a Polish SF writer, Jacek Dukaj (sadly mostly unavailable in English), who often explores the limits of language in his works, pushing its boundries to see what new concepts and meanings would emerge. In one book, he invented a new grammatical gender for Polish language to be used when talking about (sci-fi) people who are genderless or who have a gender that cannot be described with our current vocabulary. In another book, Dukaj introduced a character who believes he doesn’t actually exist and so although the character narrates the book in first person, he does it in a grammaticaly unnatural way that makes sentences like “I read the book” convey the meaning of “The book has been read”. Dukaj also wrote a story where invaders from another dimension are so alien that they break the very logic of the world, and with it, the language: as the characters get closer to the invaders, the language of the story gradually becomes more and more broken until barely any meaning remains. Sorry for rambling about books most of you can’t read, I just find such explorations of language deeply fascinating. Having read things like Dukaj’s works or this essay, “Smile” looks even more laughable in its use of emojis. I wonder what Dukaj would’ve done with a story brief like that…

    As for “Smile” itself, I never really noticed how this episode’s (idiotic) critique of emojis is gendered – thank you for pointing that out. And in the light of that gendered critique it’s very telling that F.C.-B. decided to compare the Doctor to a policeman. A young black woman reacts to emojibots with excitement, but thankfully the old white cop is there to pass judgement on “vacuous teens”. And then he tells her to pretend to smile even though she’s afraid because otherwise she might provoke the bots to attack and hurt her. None of this is intended, of course, but equally F.C-B. never stopped to think about the implications and subtext of his ideas.

    (Also, emojibots can’t distinguish between a real smile and a clearly fake one? Really?).

    Other than that, I’ve found this episode quite boring. Some have compared its slower pace to the more “exploratory” mode of DW storytelling from the Hartnell era, but for me it simply doesn’t work because if you want to focus on exploring a world, first make sure you’ve created a world that’s actually interesting to explore.


  18. Riya Koli
    May 15, 2019 @ 8:57 am

    I am first time visiting your blog and this is so funny.


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