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Category: Language

Lawyers hate it! Linguists love it! Never be confused by contradictory and confusing laws again, now that you have a fully logical legal annotation language, or “legal markup language.”


Misunderstandings of meaning are often encountered due to ambiguities in human language.

This causes problems in several ways, particularly in:

  1. Translation between languages
  2. Interpretation of laws

1) In regards to translation:

For any non-trivial translation between two languages, a human is still required in order to figure out the meaning of it and a sentence and translate it accordingly—despite the fact that the meaning is all (theoretically) already present in the text.

2) In regards to interpretation of laws:

Ambiguity in laws can cause much consternation. One famous example is the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The significance (or, alternatively, the lack thereof) of “a well regulated militia” continues to be debated. This confusion could all have been avoided by wording official documents in an unambiguous language.


We will create a new, exceedingly detailed form of annotation that will related human concepts in an unambiguously logical fashion.

This annotation will be more like an HTML-style markup language than a standard human language.

(A theoretically unambiguous language called “Lojban” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lojban) already exists, but it requires learning an entirely new language, whereas the proposal here is an extension of one’s existing language.)

Example #1: The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Original text: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

…and now a version in unambiguous annotated format:

  • Statement:
    • Forbid:
      • bail (noun, a specific payment for those awaiting trial, unspecified quantity)
        • only_present_if:
          • is also excessive (large in quantity)
      • fines (noun, payment required from an individual, 2+):
        • type: required / mandatory
          • required by: the government
        • only_present_if:
          • is also excessive (large in quantity)
      • infliction / imposition:
        • thing to be inflicted: punishments (plural, 2+)
        • only_present_if:
          • all_conditions_true:
            • is cruel (adj., see also merciless, evil)
            • is_not:
              • usual / common / standard / as expected

And when translated back to English:

The following 3 things are forbidden: 1) bail, only if excessive or too large in quantity, 2) fines, only if excessive or too large in quantity, and 3) infliction of punishment, only if both of the following conditions are met: the punishment is cruel or merciless, and also the punishment is also unusual or nonstandard.

See Fig. 1 for an example of the annotation format in flowchart form.

Unambiguous text - 8th amendment flowchart

Fig 1: The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, rendered as a “diagrammed sentence”-style graph of logical concepts.

Example #2: Shakespeare, a famous soliloquy by Hamlet:

HAMLET: To be, or not to be—that is the question: 

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

…and now a version in unambiguous annotated format:

  •  Pose_Question:
    • type: posed abstractly
      • posed_to: abstract audience of indefinite nature (informal)
      • posed_by: Hamlet (male, singular, nobility, age_of_majority, informal)
    • option: Continued existence
    • option: Annihilation
    • requirement: select 1 option
    • evaluation criterion: none
  • var MY_ENDURE =
    • subject (noun): enduring / persisting:
      • the one who endures: a human (abstract, no number or gender specified)
      • the thing to be endured: injury (abstract)
        • a.k.a.: new var TROUBLE1
          • caused_by: projectiles (plural, 2+):
            • projectile_1: causative agent (plural, 2+): a sling
            • projectile_2: causative agent (plural, 2+): arrows
            • source (of projectiles): abstract_entity:
              • fortune / luck
    • var RA1 = verb / action: raise arms / raise weapons / struggle
      • struggle against what: troubles / problems (plural, many)
        • a.k.a.: new var TROUBLE1
        • assert that: TROUBLE1 is identical to TROUBLE1 in MY_ENDURE
      • var RA2 = noun
        • end / cessation of TROUBLE1
      • action:
        • RA1 leads to RA2 (RA1 -> RA2)
        • frequency of action causing result: always
  • Pose_Question:
    • type: posed abstractly
      • posed_to: abstract audience of indefinite nature (informal)
      • posed_by: Hamlet (male, singular, nobility, age_of_majority, informal)
    • option: Continued existence
    • option: Annihilation
    • requirement: select 1 option
    • evaluation criterion: “is nobler” (is superior, is more admirable)
    • item to evaluate #1: MY_RAISE_ARMS_CAUSE_END
    • item to evaluate #2: MY_ENDURE

And when translated back to English:

HAMLET: I pose the following abstract question: Is continued existence preferred, or is the non-continuance of existence preferred?

HAMLET: I pose the additional abstract question: Is it preferable for an unspecified individual to endure troubles, specifically multiple injuries caused by abstract fortune / luck, where these injuries are inflicted by one or more arrows, and one or more unspecified projectiles sent by means of a sling, or is it preferable for that individual to by means of arming oneself or applying weapons, struggle against against the same troubles referred to earlier in this question, where this struggle also results in the end of the specified troubles.



For laws, its interesting to see how verbose and incomprehensible even a single sentence can be in “unambiguous” format. As for Hamlet, it may lack the elegance of the original, but now it can be translated between languages by machine without loss of information!

This would probably actually work for very limited types of input: e.g. cookbook recipes, scientific methods / protocols, product warranties, instruction manuals, etc…

PROS: Machine translation will finally work right!

CONS: The “unambiguous” format is basically impossible to read.


Below are the above examples in image format, with color-coded sections to indicated corresponding text.

Unambiguous text - Hamlet

Fig 2: An excerpt from Hamlet: original -> unambiguous annotation -> back to English, in an image. See above for this information presented as selectable text. Note that the colors are supposed to match up regions of (mostly) identical information content.


Unambiguous text - 8th amendment text

Fig 3: The Eighth Amendment: original -> unambiguous annotation -> back to English, in an image. See above for this information presented as selectable text.


Clean up old files on your computer easily with this ONE BIZARRE TRICK. Scholars of ancient languages hate it!



Over time, old files tend accumulate on one’s computer. However, cleaning out a computer is an annoying and time-consuming task.

In the past, storage increased at a rate such that old files could be safely ignored forever. But modern laptops may actually have less (although faster) storage than ones from five years ago. Now it’s important to be able to tell which files are old and which are not!

The proposal:

Here is an example of a normal file (Fig. 1):


Fig 1: A standard file, modified recently. Nothing remarkable about it!

We don’t really need to pay much attention to this file; we used it recently, and may want to use it again.

But an older file (which we should probably either archive or delete) could be called out by using an old computer font and icon, as seen in figure 2.


Fig 2: This older file is visually apparent, thanks to the classic font and pixelated icon.


Fig 3: Even older files may be marked with different fonts, as seen above. The hieroglyphic font (of randomly-chosen hieroglyphs) could be reserved for the very oldest files on the system.


Fig 4: Finally, some files are accidentally set to a “future” modification time. Although this is currently impossible with our understanding of physics, these files nevertheless brazenly display a creation / modification date far in the future. We assume that robots will rule the earth in the far future, and thus have chosen a barcode font to represent the data for these files.

PROS: Accurately displays computer file age in easy-to-read visual form. Assists in freeing disk space.

CONS: Historical accuracy is questionable; hieroglyphs were not in widespread use during the early days of computing in the 1970s.

A call to action: stop being a slacktivist—it’s time to update emoji to prevent emoji obsolescence! (Or: emoji serve inadvertently as a time capsule of the early 2000s.)


As time goes on, certain emoji will become obsolete. Some of them already have! Although this is not a huge problem right now, it may become one in the future: will anyone understand what the “pager” emoji means in 100 years?


Fig 1: In a hundred years, this pager icon will will baffle and befuddle all but the most erudite historians.

Fig 2: For people of the future, the pager icon will be as perplexing as this device probably is to you, unless you work in a historical re-creation village or something (This is an apple peeler.) Image citation.

The plan: periodically update emoji symbols

So we need to update our symbolic language to take into account the new technology.

Below are some examples of what emoji would have looked like if they had been created in years past.

These should serve as a cautionary tale and convince you of the necessity of occasional emoji symbol updates!


Fig 3: This figure should convince you of the necessity of occasional emoji updates. If the emoji in the right column had been created in ancient times and never updated, we would be stuck with the no-longer-representative icons in the left column. For example, we would still have to use the “plague doctor” icon to refer to medical professionals.


We may occasionally be able to predict certain aspects of the future and fix our soon-to-be-obsolete emoji ahead of time.

Future Emoji

Fig 4: Even in the early 2000s, we have the opportunity to add a few “for future use” emoji before we absolutely need them. Here are some examples of easy ones that are guaranteed to be correct. Also, we can probably remove emoji for most extinct animals in the future. Sorry, soon-to-be-extinct animals!

Possible Difficulty:

Due to the convergence of technology, sometimes multiple devices in the past will end up being the same icon in the modern era. For example, the camera, camcorder, phone, pager, fax machine, and computer have all been combined into the modern cell phone. It is unclear how to deal with this scenario in a satisfactory manner.

Convergent technological development

Fig 5: One issue with updating emoji is that multiple former-era-emoji may map to a single emoji in the current era, as seen above.


As usual, this is a great idea!

PROS: Prevents emoji from becoming confusing and obsolete.

CONS: May make old documents unreadable if old symbols are retired or replaced, and thus rarely or never encountered except by historians.

Sources of certain images:

Modern “Emoji” characters will become the basis for writing systems of civilizations 1000 years from now.


Our current alphabet is derived from an ancient system of representational icons. These icons were once pictures of actual objects, but have been simplified to an easier-to-write form over the millennia.

For example, according to the inerrant source of knowledge known as Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet):

The letter “Q” used to be one of these:


This is the head of a needle, called “qop.” Presumably the ancient Phonecian word for “head of a needle” sounded something vaguely like “qop.”

Similarly with “K,” which used to look like this:


Supposedly this was the palm of a hand, called “kap.” Just like above, presumably the ancient word for “palm” started with a “k” sound.


So in the modern era, whenever we want to write out a “k” sound, we draw a tiny pictogram of the palm of a hand, all because the word for “palm” started with a “k” three thousand years ago.

Some letters are indirectly derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.


So if we ask why a specific letter is shaped in a certain way, the answer is because it looked like a sketch of an owl that some scribe drew 5000 years ago!

The predicted future:

In the future, we expect that these trends will continue.

In the example below, we see the icon of a floppy disk (which also represents the word “Save”). A floppy disk is a device that was once used by the ancestral people of Silicon Valley to store written knowledge.

Here are two predicted possible evolutions of a new character (the final form of which is based loosely on Chinese characters), which may represent one of three things:

  1. In a fully ideographic system, it would continue to represent the verbto save.”
  2. In a syllabic system, it would represent the syllable “sa” or “say.”
  3. In an alphabetic system, it would represent the sound “sss.”


Fig 1: In the distant future, the “save” icon (left) will become an ideogram via one of the two paths seen at right. The two paths (top row and bottom row) represent different ways of abstracting away the floppy disk; in the top path (green arrow), the angled edge is exaggerated, while in the bottom path, the metal slide cover is emphasized.


Just as obsolete iconography of the past continues to live on today (the head of a needle, the Egyptian owl, etc…), our Emoji of the beginning of the third millennium will undoubtedly influence the writing systems of people in the distant future.

PROS: Since this is inescapably our future, it has no “pros.” It merely is.

CONS: As above, there are no cons to this vision of the future. We must simply accept it as destiny.

Fix possessives, plurals, and contractions forever with this one incomprehensible English orthography trick

The horrifying issue:

The “apostrophe + s” ending in English has multiple meanings. This can be confusing.


Fig 1: Hypothesis: the apostrophe (as seen above) is a poor choice of symbol for indicating possession.

Here are some examples of a few applications of ’s (or s’ ) :

  1. Singular possession (“The cat’s tail.”)
  2. Plural possession (“The many trees’ leaves”—not “trees’s leaves”)
  3. Contraction, short for “is” (“It’s cold outside”)
  4. Contraction, short for “us” (“Let’s go inside”)

Aside from the varying rules, “s” is also the way of pluralizing in English. So possessive and plural can sound the same.

And “it’s” vs “its” is a popular point of confusion.

  1. “The horse’s hooves made noise.”
  2. “Its hooves made noise.” No apostrophe here! (And “it’s” is a separate word entirely.)


Let us disambiguate these cases in text, while keeping the pronunciation the same.

  1. Plurality remains “-s” and “-es.”
  2. Contractions (e.g. “let’s go” or “it’s going to rain”) can remain the same.
  3. For possession, we’ll use a new symbol. It will still be pronounced the same way.

OPTION 1: A plain “z” might work, and has a similar sound:


  • “The fishz scales.” “The octopusz tentacles.”
    • This becomes awkward when a word ends in a “z.” There are about 60 English words that this would affect.
    • Example: “The waltzz (“waltz’s”) steps were difficult.” Or: “The Jazzz (“Jazz’s”) audience.”

These oddities could be avoided with an apostrophe or hyphen:


  • “’z”: “The two quizzes’z answers.” “The fizz’z sound.”


  • “The quiz-z answers.” “The Joneses-z house.” “The cats-z tails.”

Fig 2: Maybe Z or -Z or ‘Z is the way to go.

OPTION 2: We could use a special punctuation mark that is only for possession.

The degree symbol (°) gets very little use in English, and could perhaps be re-purposed

  • “°”: “The two horses°s saddles.” “The various bottles°s labels.” “The cat°s meow.”


Fig 3: The degree symbol is generally unused in English writing, so it could be repurposed with few complaints. This might be the cat°s meow.

OPTION 3: Alternately, we could omit the punctuation-mark-and-letter entirely, and borrow a possessive-indicating character from another language (which we would still pronounce as “s.”).

  • Chinese possessive-mark equivalent:
  • Japanese possessive-mark equivalent:

The Japanese one is simple and resembles a (very large) punctuation mark already:


Fig 4: Perhaps symbols from other languages would be suitable. Example: “The horseshoe nails.” “The man jacket.” “The dozen cats tails.”

Possessive pronouns according to these rules:

We can also make “his / hers / theirs / its” fit this system:

  • her / hers —> herz / her’z / her°s / her
  • its —> itz / it’z / it°s / it  (note: not to be confused with “it’s” as in “it’s going to rain”)
  • theirs —> theirz / their’z / their°s / their

We have at least two options for “his”:

  • his —> hisz / his’z / his°s / his
  • Or if we disassemble “his” into “he’s”:
    • his —> hez / he’z / he°s / he
  • Or maybe even:
    • his —> hiz / hi’z / hi°s / hi

The last one has a new (but very unlikely) confusion: “hi°s” (“tell him that hi°s car is double-parked”) is now visually identical to “hi°s” (as in “we greeted them from afar with a loud ‘hi’, but the hi°s volume wasn’t high enough for them to hear it”).


  1. Plural remains “s” with no bells and whistles.
  2. Possession is indicated with either a “z” or some combination of punctuation-and-z (e.g. “°z”), or possibly by a completely new punctuation mark borrowed from another language (e.g. “”).
  3. Contractions (like “let’s go” and “it’s cold”) remain “’s”.

Now we’ve freed up the apostrophe for its primary job of indicating contractions!

PROS: Will create thousands of new jobs teaching writing to primary school students. Finally the tyranny of “its” vs “it’s” will be banished from the land.

CONS: If we start using “” or “”, other countries might invade when their own supplies of these valuable characters run low.