Unicode Ghosts

Original author: Paul McCann
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In 1978, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan established an encoding, which would later be called JIS X 0208. It is still the basis of all Japanese encodings. But after the release of the JIS standard, people noticed something strange: some of the added characters did not have obvious sources. No one could say what they mean and how to pronounce them. No one was sure where they came from. These characters are now known as ghosts ( 幽 霊 文字 ).

Be careful what you write. via NDL

For a long time, ghost symbols remained an inexplicable and almost forgotten curiosity, but in 1997 an investigation of their origin began. Although the source must be specified for all characters in the JIS standard, but even if there is such a record, it is not very specific: usually the document where the character came from is simply indicated.

You might think that the name will make it easier to find the origin of the characters. But it’s important to clarify that one of the most common “sources” for ghosts was the “Survey of National Administrative Areas” (国土 行政区 画 総 覧), a complete list of all Japanese place names. As I initially suggested, you can imagine a kind of atlas, a small book with several hundred pages. But no, the lastthe publication of the reference book is a seven-volume book, each of which contains about nine hundred pages. Imagine finding a single character without a link to a page.

Despite the difficulties, the investigation of ghost characters, the search for the origin of the characters was successful - mostly. Researchers interviewed the catalogers involved in creating the standard and found that some characters were accidentally invented as errors in the cataloging process. For example, 妛 is an error that occurred while trying to write “山 over 女”. This phrase appears in the name of a certain place and, therefore, was suitable for inclusion in the JIS standard, but since it was still not possible to print a whole composite symbol, the catalogers printed 山 and 女 separately, cut them out and docked on a piece of paper. But when copying, the junction of two small pieces of paper looked like a dash - and it was mistakenly added to the symbol. Correct character () added to JIS and Unicode much later - and it still does not appear on most sites.

The main ghost symbols: 妛 挧 暃 椦 槞 蟐 袮 閠 駲 墸 壥 彁

As a result, for only one symbol, they did not find the exact source or any historical precedent: this is the symbol 彁. The most likely explanation is that it was created as a misreading of the 彊 symbol, but not a single specific incident could be detected.

After the general adoption of the JIS standard, all of these characters fell into Unicode, which already had its own separate set of ghost characters from the time of CJK unification.

To summarize: in 1978, as a result of a series of minor errors, several characters appeared out of nowhere. Errors went unnoticed long enough for symbols to take root in the standard, so now these ghosts, at least theoretically, have penetrated every computer on the planet, hiding in the dark corners of symbol tables.

It is likely that they will remain with humanity forever. Ψ

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