Several correspondents had things to say about “cultural neoteny,” and all of them deserve replies. Today, almost at random, which is to say at pseudorandom, we reply to Daniel, who suggested,

Consider the rise of Verbal Emojis in place of adult speech. One or two ritual words are offered instead of a thoughtful comment. Examples: “Bro!”, “Right?!”, “True that.”, “Ship it!”.

It certainly does seem as though whole conversations drift past us on the street that are nothing but compilations of catch phrases, arranged in a predictable order that spares the speakers from thinking but somehow allows them to think they are filling the air with sparkling epigrams.

The question is whether this is a new thing. The phrases are new: our modern Oscar Wildes sneer at the older generations who responded to every stimulus with “All reet!” or “Solid!” and who greeted every unpleasant smell with “B.O.!” in foghorn tones. And of course the hep cats of those days thought the older generations were comically quaint with their “First-rate!” and “Oh, Laura!” But perhaps humanity has always reached for catch phrases to carry on most of its conversations. What are Homeric epithets if not catch phrases? “Swift-footed Achilles” is “swift-footed” because the epithet spares us from having to come up with something new to say about him every time we bring him up in conversation. Most conversation is a social recreation rather than a communication of information. If all the passengers on the streetcar were struck mute for the duration of the ride, the number who would be seriously inconvenienced by failing to receive vital information from their fellow passengers would be small. (The number offering silent thanks for an answered prayer would be at least one.)

What is new is the rise of written emojis, which have become so much a part of our culture that we describe catch phrases in terms of emojis, rather than emojis in terms of catch phrases. There was a time, not so long ago, when the only people who communicated with happy and frowny faces were elementary-school teachers: by the time students reached junior high school, they no longer required smiley faces as commentary on their quiz results, and they would have been insulted if a teacher thought they were so immature.

But, having said that, we recall that printers kept stock cuts on hand that served more or less the same purpose as emojis, and the typefounders’ catalogues are full of the things. Therefore, to remind us that even emojis are not such a new thing after all, we present Victory Rooster.

Victory Rooster

He comes from an American Type Founders catalogue dated 1897. From now on, Victory Rooster will make an appearance every time we record a minor triumph, because he expresses the idea of triumph with a thoroughness that mere words cannot match.