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News You Can Use – Thumbs Up Emoji
By David Bachelor, PhD
In China the people speak “Chinese,” but the dialect they speak may be from one of seven different language trees. These dialects differ from one another as much as English differs from German or German differs from Swedish. Yet the characters in written “Chinese” have a common meaning across every Chinese dialect. A written message can be understood regardless of the version of Chinese spoken. The news this week is that the rest of the world may now have its own character-based language.
Official recognition of this new “alphabet” originates in Canada. On July 6th, Canada’s CBC News carried the headline, “Texting Thumbs-Up Emoji in Response to a Question Costs Saskatchewan Farmer $82K in Contract Case.” According to this report, a grain buyer wanted to purchase flax from a farmer. The buyer offered the farmer (via text message) a contract for 82,000 Canadian dollars. The text concluded with, “Please confirm flax contract.” The farmer responded with a thumbs-up emoji. When the flax was not delivered, the buyer sued for breach of contract and won his case.
Other media sources also featured the story. The July 7th edition of Fortune stated, “The Thumbs-Up Emoji Just Got Some Legal Clout. A Judge Ruled It’s as Valid as a Signature on a Contract.” USA TODAY on July 8th asked “Can a Thumbs-Up Emoji Seal a Contract? A Canadian Judge Rules “thumbs-up.” The Reuters report of this story had a link to the court’s verdict which noted the farmer had accepted previous contracts by “texting ‘looks good’, ‘ok’ or ‘yup.’” According to the judge, the farmer’s lexicon of consent also includes the thumbs-up emoji.
The Bible contains many narratives about contractual consent. The most elaborate is in the Old Testament at Genesis 15. In this narrative God made a pledge to give Abraham the land of Israel. God told Abraham, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon” (Gen 15:9). Abraham sacrificed the animals and placed their bisected halves along a linear corridor. God then “signed” the contract by having a smoking pot and a burning torch pass through the corridor of Abraham’s sacrifice (Gen 15:17).
The New Testament also teaches the language of consent. An apostle asked the Corinthian church, “Do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’? But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No” (2Co 1:17-18). Jesus told his disciples, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matt 5:37).
This is not to say the thumbs-up emoji is from the evil one, but emojis are a long way from standard meanings like Chinese characters. Maybe if the farmer had just read Matthew’s Gospel, he could have saved himself a bunch of money.