Tuesday October 24, 2006

Σnigma

I've been seeing posters all over Leipzig for the new Enigma album.  Remember EnigmaThey did that new-agey song "Deep Forest" [Update: Wrong!  Deep Forest was actually a similar-but-distinct group from the same era...] about a million years ago?  Yeah, they're still around, and they've been based in Germany all along—you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Anyway, the posters include an interesting new spelling of the group's name, which you can also see on the cover of their new album:

Σnigmʌ, huh?  It's exotic-looking, I suppose, but how are we expected to pronounce it?  That's not a capital E, after all, it's an upper-case sigma.  Maybe they're trying to let us know that they've changed their name to "Sigmanigma"?  Because that would be cool!  (The Wife suggests they've changed their name to Snigma, which, since they're German, they would probably pronounce "Shnigma". )  In fact, it looks like they're also using an small-caps lambda (or possibly an IPA wedge) for the final A, but I'm going to ignore that because it ruins my "Sigmanigma" theory—"Sigmanigmlambda" is simultaneously less funny and less pronounceable.

Best of all, check out the group's German web site, which very prominently misspells the name of the group like this: Σngmʌ—or maybe it's not a misspelling, and they've actually changed their name to Engma?  (Do Enya's people know about this?  I smell lawsuit!)  Here's a screenshot in case somebody notices and fixes it:

Perusing their old album covers shows that Enigma have taken this sort of liberty with writing systems before.  On these three covers, for example, they've used a consistent logo:

What are those letters they're using, though?  I don't see CAPITAL N WITH A FUNNY VERTICAL LINE THROUGH IT or CAPITAL A WELDED TO A MACRON in the Unicode standard anywhere.

This misusing Greek letters to represent similar-looking Latin letters regardless of their actual phonetic values is nothing new, of course—I'll bet more than half of the Greek restaurants I've been to have done the same thing in their signs and menus.  It's done all the time with Cyrillic letters, too.  In fact, in the bad old days before multilingual email, there was even an unofficial standard for doing the opposite: using ASCII characters to represent similar-looking Cyrillic letters.  This was called "Volapuk encoding", apparently after the pre-Esperanto auxlang Volapük.  My favorite example of this sort of practice was a license plate I once saw back in the States that read MOCKBA—that is, Latin letters used to represent the Cyrillic МОСКВА 'Moscow'.  A little civic pride, as well as a little shout-out to the other Russians on the road, I guess.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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I don't see CAPITAL N WITH A FUNNY VERTICAL LINE THROUGH IT or CAPITAL A WELDED TO A MACRON in the Unicode standard anywhere.

Because, of course, those are just font-style choices applied to LATIN CAPITAL LETTER M and LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A. If there *were* a CAPITAL N WITH A FUNNY VERTICAL LINE, then you'd have the same ambiguity that the cap-sigma and cap-lambda in the new Enigma logotype provide.

Unicode tries very hard to not think about this ambiguity. Unicode insists that U+0421 CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER ES is different from U+0043 LATIN CAPITAL LETTER C, even though they look the same, and that the latter is the same in Times New Roman or in Helvetica even though they look different, but that U+211B, U+211C, U+211D (script, blackletter, and double-struck cap R) aren't the same as U+0052 (LATIN CAPITAL LETTER R). When you sputter and hold up pictures of these glyphs to the Unicode standard, the Unicode standard just sits there and pretends to be a big fat book that has no idea what you're sputtering about.

Designers, on the other hand, don't mind that kind of ambiguity at all.

a license plate I once saw back in the States that read MOCKBA—that is, Latin letters used to represent the Cyrillic МОСКВА 'Moscow'.

So, I'm very curious about a couple of things:

1: Did you consider throwing 'Moskva' into that sentence somewhere?

2: In the second instance of MOCКBA, apart from the CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER KA, did you enter Latin or Cyrillic characters? Why?

Note that in this one tiny word, between Russian and English we have letters with the same appearance, and compatible phonetic value (M, O, A), a letter with the same appearance and sometimes a different phonetic value between Russian and English (C), a letter with the same appearance and a different value, always, (B), and a letter with a distinct appearance (in some but not all typefaces) and a compatible phonetic value (K)!

Posted by: Russell Borogove at Oct 24, 2006 5:47:46 PM

And thanks for that link to Volapuk Encoding -- I especially love using }|{ to encode ж !

Posted by: Russell Borogove at Oct 24, 2006 5:53:31 PM

btw it looks like the Enigma/Engma error was fixed.

...or you are photoshop pulling my leg and I am too dense to notice.

Posted by: Trochee at Oct 24, 2006 6:17:04 PM

I remember seeing KOCMOHABT as a nickname on a game server once. (It only allowed the basic English alphabet in the names + numbers.)

Posted by: Erkki at Oct 25, 2006 12:35:02 AM

1: Did you consider throwing 'Moskva' into that sentence somewhere?

I did, but it seemed sort of redundant. Everybody knows Cyrillic, right?

2: In the second instance of MOCКBA, apart from the CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER KA, did you enter Latin or Cyrillic characters? Why?

They're all Cyrillic, because I had already paged down to the appropriate range in Character Map, so I figured, "why not?"

BTW, I'm now having a Cyrillic word moment—that can't be how it's spelled, can it?

Posted by: The Tensor at Oct 25, 2006 3:29:43 AM

btw it looks like the Enigma/Engma error was fixed.

Ah, I see what's going on—they've got a poorly-designed page that lays out wrong in Firefox (and IE) if your window it too narrow. Resize your browser smaller and smaller, and you'll see the main part of the page slowly overlap and obscure the menu bar at the left. The letters in the word Σnigma are divided between the two areas, which are actually two frames. The left one, which contains the menu and Σni, is a Shockwave app, while the right one is an HTML image in a table. It just so happened that my browser was at the right width to hide the i.

...or you are photoshop pulling my leg and I am too dense to notice.

Nope, not this time!

Posted by: The Tensor at Oct 25, 2006 3:41:21 AM

"1: Did you consider throwing 'Moskva' into that sentence somewhere?"

I did, but it seemed sort of redundant. Everybody knows Cyrillic, right?

More redundant than MOCKBA vs. МОСКВА? :)

They're all Cyrillic, because I had already paged down to the appropriate range in Character Map, so I figured, "why not?"

And you didn't want the Unicode standard to glare at you in quiet disapproval.


Posted by: Russell Borogove at Oct 25, 2006 11:25:26 AM

"...you could have knocked me over with a feather."

Did anyone try?

And if so, did they succeed?

Posted by: Henry IX at Oct 30, 2006 8:31:24 PM

I have no idea if you'll ever see this. (That's one of the hallmarks of the compulsive commenter.)

Why would the band want to call themselves "SNIGML"? It's not that easy to pronounce.

I don't know much about rock groups - the only "Enigma" I know of was a little machine the Germans used to try to keep us from reading their mail.

Well, that and the orchestral work by Elgar (the famous Spanish composer Eduardo el-Gar).

Then some British chap (one Winston Churchill) said that an enigma was something you wrapped around a mystery wrapped around a riddle - Russia being the thing inside).

Posted by: ZZMike at Jan 28, 2009 5:27:46 PM