Other examples of phenomena like the Unicode Ghost Characters?
March 11, 2019 4:19 AM   Subscribe

I was just introduced to the story about the Japanese ghost characters that snuck into Unicode and will be embedded in it forever. The story was also posted on the blue in 2018.

I think the story is fascinating and was wondering if there was a word for phenomena like that and if there are other examples.

I know that the Thai Alphabet has some obsolete letters that are no longer used but are still learned for tradition. That being said, this doesn't need to be limited to alphabets.

I could see how certain skeuomorphic artifacts might be examples of this, though I can't think of any. I could also see how there might be examples of network effects/path dependent systems where this might pop up. I did come across Stinchcombe’s concept of organizational imprinting, but I'm look for more anecdotal examples. Even personal stories/examples would be interesting.

I guess we could think of spoken language examples like "a norange/an orange", but I'm not really interesting in linguistic shifts.

TDLR: What are examples of weird artifacts sneaking into large systems or organizations that are too intertwined to disentangle?
posted by Telf to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
TVTropes: The Artifact
Sometimes, a character or gimmick seems to no longer fit with the mood or design of a story according to a writer, but is kept because there seems to be no way for the writer to get rid of them without causing some serious disruption (unrelated to Retcons).

Sometimes it's due to being tied in closely to the mythos or that The Artifact has just been around so long that removing it seems like overstepping bounds. And if it's due to pure fan popularity, the producers probably aren't going to push it out in any case for no reason.
Since it's TVTropes, it has a lot of pop-cultural examples, but the article also has sections for Law, Software, and a huge subpage called Other that has a lot of good real-life ones.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:57 AM on March 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Spandrels” are artifacts in architecture - they’re the corners left by arches in rectangular frames. The term is also used in biology, for phenotypical characteristics that arose by accident as a by-product of evolution, rather than conferring a selective advantage. Like human chins, hyena genitals, and maybe... music? The wikipedia article is well worth a read.

Back to architecture, “Thomassons” are redundant features like staircases that lead to nowhere. (Continuing the analogy to biology, these would be more like vestigial characteristics). The term was coined by a Japanese artist, Akasegawa Genpei, who named these features after a baseball player with a very similar story to Bobby Bonilla and other athletes who by a quirk of fortune are paid handsomely to do nothing. (Cursed Architecture on twitter sometimes has examples.)
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:39 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh, and to speak to your request for system / organisation level artifacts: Alex Harrowell argues persuasively that the cost, inefficiency and general perversity of the entire US healthcare system - and other giant institutional failures - can be though of as a spontaneous artifact that nobody is really responsible for, but instead arises from a system’s complexity, the transaction costs at each level and the impossibility of specifiying every aspect of a relationship within a contract.

Coasian Hells (read posts from the bottom upwards).
As often happens, the first half of this insight was more successful than the second. Since the 1980s, there has been a global trend towards replacing organisations with networks of contracts. The idea that a firm could be considered as a network of contracts was taken up by the management consulting industry, and strengthened from a positive observation to a normative statement that firms should become more so. In as much as anyone bothered with Coase’s corollary, it was simply to say that there was some sort of “core business” in there – presumably it was thought to be the zone in which transactions costs got high enough to demand organisation – and everything else must be contracted out.

In many ways, we’ve lived through a giant experiment in proving Ronald Coase wrong, which has now failed.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:52 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are lots of things in modern clothing that are vestigal artifacts of something that was once a functional part of the same type of garment. For example, shoulder straps on jackets are echoes of the straps on military uniforms, which were/are used to help secure bags and pouches and stuff, but on most non-military jackets they have no function. Or watch pockets in the right front pant pocket, which I suppose some people use for stuff but which have lost their main reason for being, and only remain because "well, that's how pants pockets are." There are many more examples of this, but they're currently escaping me!
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:39 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

This may be a bit afield of what you have in mind, but the Referer header in HTTP comes to mind. Something like half of all web requests sent on the Internet include this header and the word "referrer" is misspelled in every one. The misspelling dates back to the very earliest days of the WWW and will probably persist forever more because changing it is too hard. The recently defined HTTP/2.0 changes almost everything in how web requests works but maintains the misspelling.
posted by Nelson at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Persistent typos in computer terms: Commodore's KERNAL (1980), guillemotleft/guillemotright for «/» (guillemet) in many character name tables (Adobe, c.1984) and HTTP's Referer (IETF, 1990), …
posted by scruss at 7:47 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Trap Streets to catch plagiarism.
On Mefi, the current logo has a tagline that says community weblog, but it used to have changing taglines, such as weblog as conversation or The plastic.com it's okay to like, which still show up in an occasional comment, in some form. The MeFi wiki is a treasure trove of expired in-jokes and stuff.
posted by theora55 at 7:24 PM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

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