I picked up a freeware mahjong game recently. I do that from time to time -- I find mahjong solitaire less aggravating than Freecell or Klondike, and less twitchy than Tetris. This one happens to be Ivory, available free of charge for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and iOS devices. The playfield is a resizeable 3D rendering, rather than the customary bitmapped tiles; you can rotate it in along a number of different axes, which is handy sometimes for seeing which tiles are really free in some of the more complicated configurations.

Ivory comes with both the traditional mahjong tiles, and an alternate set that have text markings instead. They use Arabic and Roman numerals, Greek letters, some of the common Unicode digraphs, and typographical marks like ampersands and the copyright symbol. The traditional tiles are nicely rendered, but the typographic tiles are easier to see if I have the window shrunk down, so I've been switching them back and forth while I play.

At some point, I had a moment: I realized that I know what all of the markings mean. There are two sets of tiles in Chinese that are seasons and flowers, and I know which ones match with which because I can read the little characters that say fuyu・haru・natsu・aki and momo・take・kiku・araraki. The N-S-E-W tiles are kita・minami・higashi・nishi. One of the digraphs on the typo tiles isn't ft but ſt, using the outdated long medial minuscule s that once existed in both English and German, where the common word end ſs has combined in modern usage into ß. The sigma they use is the terminal form ς, which is both phonologically and graphologically related to the lowercase zeta, ζ.

I also realize that other people don't know these things. I don't understand that. I'm not being pejorative here;  I understand that I'm the weird one. I just lack any instinctual comprehension of looking at a squiggle that clearly says something, realizing that I don't know what that something is, and then being able to conclude that it's gibberish and I don't have to care.

Other people don't have all the footnoting, either. I've very rarely in my life been in a state of mind where I can look at "γ" and not have my brain autocomplete that with "-immunoglobulin?" And it's scared the ever-loving fuck out of me every time it's happened. It's the major reason I refuse to try any SSRIs ever again. The things completely removed me from the spiderweb of links by which I relate to the world, and suddenly I couldn't remember anything without it, nor could I think rationally about anything I or anyone else was doing. I'm fine with the risk I run by taking intoxicants like alcohol, which make me prone to saying any damnfool thing that pops into my head, but I vehemently dislike things that stop damnfool things from popping into my head to begin with.

It occurs to me to wonder if the way I read Japanese is the way a lot of people read in their native language. I don't always have 100% reading comprehension, but when I don't, it's generally because I've been lazy or inattentive and simply missed a key word or phrase somewhere, not because I read it and failed to grok its meaning. I do still run into words whose exact definition is not standing ready at the front of my brain -- nobody knows ALL THE ENGLISH, not even me -- but these days they're near-universally precision technical terms for fields in which I am not an expert. I always feel a bit flail-y, not getting 100% of things in Japanese. I can't fathom feeling that way about the language I'm swimming in all the time. I would learn it all or die trying.

Japanese makes me sympathetic towards the dyslexics of the world. Depending on whether I've got a reading or a meaning, I flip back and forth between matching kanji as ideographs with a phonetic and semantic component, or icons with a fixed set of edges. It occasionally gives me problems minding my p's and q's -- so to speak -- when it comes to characters like 神 or 相, in which each part is itself a valid character of some kind, and could legally appear on either side of the kanji. Or with the rare compound whose characters form a valid word in either order, like 会社 (kaisha, company, as in kaishachou, CEO) and 社会 (shakai, society, as in shakaigaku, sociology). P's and q's aside, I don't seem to get it with pairs of single-piece kanji which are mirror images of one another, or nearly so when handwritten, like 手 (te, hand, as in karate, the "empty-handed" fighting style, or nekode, a cat's paw) and 毛 (ke, hairy or furry, as in kemushi, the fuzzy kinds of caterpillars).

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