|, or a tale of semiotic mystery

i've been seeing this symbol for a few months now: |, and wondering what it is. i've mostly encountered it on facebook, and never took the time to record where it occurred (this post would be a lot better and more professional if i had).

for some reason it struck me as being exceptionally meaningful. it tended to occur in photo captions, and in correspondences (like wall posts) between boyfriends and girlfriends. i, being me, thought 'how cool! people have taken this apparently meaningless symbol, |, and imbued it with all this romantic meaning. it clearly functions as a sign! what a great invented usage. i better blog about that!'

so i set out to discover the root of the meaning of |.

turns out you can't search for punctuation. (this is also the reason i didn't have the guts to title this post simply, '|'.) smilies (:-D) are also unsearchable. and, let's be honest, google is really my only resource for these kinds of things. i was at a loss!

i did try wikipedia's article on internet slang, to no avail, and found this interesting internet-slang-eliminating dictionary, but it proved just as useless in this case.

but then i consulted a friend who is wise in the ways of pop culture. she immediately asked me if i use firefox to view the facebook posts i mentioned above. i do, in fact, use firefox. she informed me that firefox misinterprets a certain piece of internet slang as |. what i should have been seeing was the internet symbol, '< 3', which some browsers and instant messaging programs display as an actual heart: <3. (i suppose that will look like | if you use firefox!)

at first i was a little disappointed that people were sticking to this iconic representation rather than branching out into the more abstract as i'd first assumed. but really, it's pretty interesting that i was able to glean such an accurate idea of its meaning just from the context of the symbol's use. this just goes to show that | could quite plausibly function as a symbol of love. it would just require that readers be exposed to a couple of instances in which they could gather that meaning from context.

this has already happened to '< 3', which doesn't look so much like a heart, and the standard drawn heart that doesn't really look like the anatomical heart, and the anatomical heart that doesn't actually have much connection to love itself. these connections are already conventionally defined and therefore easy to use quickly. but they're conventionally defined nonetheless, the way i thought | was!

score one for the arbitrariness of signs!
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