Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Unicode Rebus Inequalities

Here's a quiz to celebrate the release of Unicode 11.0

What's the solution to the following "equation"?

🐕🦏🦅🛡🐌 = ?

If your browser's struggling with the Unicode characters, they should look something like this:


The answer is "DRESS" ... isn't it?


If we take the pictures on the left-hand side, we get "DOG", "RHINOCEROS", "EAGLE", "SHIELD" and "SNAIL". The initial letters spell "DRESS". Any school-child will tell you that. Easy, eh? Well, yes and no. Or should I say oui et non?

If I'm a French-speaker, I get a different result: "CHIEN", "RHINOCÉROS", "AIGLE", "BOUCLIER" and "ESCARGOT". This spells "CRABE" (crab):


By the way, there's no ambiguity in the names here; I'm using official Unicode international names for these code-points.

Perhaps we could reformulate "DRESS" using different code-points to try to get around this confusion:


That's "DIZZY", "ROOSTER", "EAR", "SLED" and "SNAIL" to spell "DRESS". The pictures are a bit more esoteric, but they still don't solve the confusion. In French, "ÉTOURDISSEMENT", "COQ", "OREILLE", "LUGE" and "ESCARGOT" spell out "ÉCOLE" (church):


These "Unicode rebus inequalities" don't just occur between English and French. Consider another English encoding for "DRESS" ("DRESS", "ROCKET", "EGG", "STATION" and "SCISSORS"):


In German, those pictures ("KLEID", "RAKETE", "EI", "BAHNHOF" and "SCHERE") spell out "KREBS" (crab again!):


This could form the basis of a fun (well, at least educational) game. The next step up would be to guess the language. Consider "HANDBAG" ("HAMMER", "AIRPLANE", "NEWSPAPER", "DNA", "BED", "ANT" and "GEAR") in English:


But which language produces the following, different right-hand side?


Answer: Spanish. The pictures ("MARTILLO", "AVIÓN", "PERIÓDICO", "ADN", "CAMA", "HORMIGA", "ENGRANAJE") spell out "MAPACHE" (raccoon).

The DNA and raccoon code-points are new in Unicode 11.0. That's why I'm using images for the equations.

Needless to say, there's a fair amount of data munging required to find these inequalities, but in all my searching, I've only found one non-trivial equality:


In English, "BOOKMARK", "RABBIT", "OGRE", "OCTOPUS" and "MOTORWAY" spell out "BROOM". But in Italian, remarkably, the same pictures "SEGNALIBRO", "CONIGLIO", "ORCO", "POLPO" and "AUTOSTRADA" spell out "SCOPA" which means ... [drum roll] ... "BROOM"!

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