On Sat, 19 Jul 2003 22:38:11 -0000, Shreyas Sampat <laopooh@...> wrote:

> I've been wondering lately about the usage of personal marks
like signatures in other cultures and writing systems. I'm
aware of the Chinese usage of seal stamps and, more recently,
archaic naming glyph variants... what other naming-specific
writing customs and personal-identification customs exist in
the writing systems of the world?

My apologies for a delayed reply. While the matter is surely
not something regarded highly, the recent fad for "making one's
mark" with spray paint on a publicly-visible surface is one
such instance. I lived in NY City from '63 to '86, and stared
at countless "marks", often overlaid several layers deep inside
subway trains. (The NYCTA finally solved the problem by ruling that no train
would leave the terminal for a new run unless all "marks" were
eradicated. They actually did that, afaik. The prospective
mark-maker know that his disfigurement would last only one

My conclusion was that each individual tried to outdo his
predecessors in being more illegible than they were.

Although the idea is crude, the comparison between these
mark/graffiti-makers and dogs marking their territories is
modestly surprising. Both carry containers of liquid,
applied without contacting the surface. The liquid used
by each species is best perceived by the keenest sense
of that species.

My apologies for temporarily dragging down Qalam.
"Boasting" marks made by stonecutters are more dignified.

The Taki 183 Story

Before some date I have forgotten, but which is probably
the early 1970s, NY City did not have any significant amount of
spray-painted graffiti; graffiti were not prominent,
I'm just about certain.

= = =

One might go up to The Cloisters by bus or subway, or else
walk in other public places, and be puzzled by a small,
neat, noticeable but unobtrusive marking, almost like some
sort of public-utility marking. It was plainly meant not to
disfigure, just to be seen. I recall one instance being at
about chest height, just inside the edge of a pedestrian
underpass arch as one walked from the last transit stop to The

It was lettered neatly by hand in a block-capital sans-serif
face, maybe 3 inches/8 cm high or so, and said, "TAKI 183".
It appeared to be written with either a broad-tip felt marker
or possibly even a brush. Color was black.

After several months or more, maybe a year or two, quite a few
New Yorkers were wondering what on earth "TAKI 183" meant. Well,
an enterprising and presumably persistent New York Times reporter
found out after some investigation. He located and interviewed
the creator, and kept his identity secret.

He was a decent teen-age lad who felt compelled to write his
nickname (I'll spare the pertinent nationality for now; those
of this fine and ancient culture will probably recognize it
instantly). He also wanted to indicate that he lived on
183rd St. He didn't want to disfigure, just be noticed.

Well, the NY Times didn't have much of importance, otherwise,
to put on the first page of the second section, so they
placed the story at the top of the page, (as I recall) full
width, and with a specimen photo.

Well, The "Street People" might not generally read The Times,
but they did recognize this as High Endorsement, and one
might think it was only a matter of hours (actually, a
few weeks, I think) before nicknames and street numbers
became epidemic.

As time went on, street numbers were forgotten, and the whole
mess became the illegibility contest I mentioned earlier.

= = =

Some NYC subway-car "airbrush" art (not the usual "marks") was
done by talented people; a number of years ago, a German firm
published a book of some of the best work.

Best regards,

Nicholas Bodley
slumming temporarily
"Osmosis was not a god of Ancient Egypt." -- Michael Goldfarb
Waltham, Mass. |@| Using M2, the Opera browser's
revolutionary e-mail client: http://www.opera.com/m2/