That mysterious J


In e-mail from Microsoft employees, you may find a stray J like this one at the end of a message from Rico Mariani. Some of you might see it; others might not. What's the deal with the J?

The J started out its life as a smiley-face. The WingDings font puts a smiley face where the letter J goes. Here, let me try: <FONT FACE=WingDings>J</FONT> results in J. As the message travels from machine to machine, the font formatting may get lost or mangled, resulting in the letter J appearing when a smiley face was intended. (Note that this is not the same as the smiling face incorporated into Unicode as U+263A, which looks like this: ☺. Some of you might see it; others might not.)

I recall a story (possibly apocryphal) of somebody who regularly exchanged a lot of e-mail with Microsoft employees and who as a result started signing their own messages with a J, figuring this was some sort of Microsoft slang. The Microsoft employees who got the J-messages scratched their heads until they were able to figure out how their correspondent arrived at this fabulous deduction.

And now, the mysterious J has come full circle, because some people use it ironically, intentionally just writing a J without setting the font, in the same way people making fun of "leet" writing may "accidentally" type "1"s (or even more absurdly, the word "one") into a row of exclamation points.

Comments (33)
  1. Raymond sheds some light on the mystery of J.

  2. josh says:

    Then there’s also that Gecko renders it as a J (except specifically for "font face" in quirks mode, like what you used…) because it stubbornly insists that there IS no "J" in Wingdings and goes off to find a font that does have it.

  3. What is a J? A letter in the alphabet, yes, no, yes? Well sometimes it&amp;#8217;s a bit more than that, or rather, something different. Have you ever got emails like this and wondered what the HELL is that J? I&amp;#8217;ve…

  4. Dave says:

    This is such a coincidence! My wife asked me just last night what the letter J was doing in an email she was reading!! Raymond must have psychic abilities!

  5. robdoyle says:

    Jay!!1one!

  6. Sean.McLellan says:

    That’s so cool!!!!1111oneoneone JJJ

  7. Centaur says:

    Since I do not allow web sites to override my browsing font, I can see the Unicode smiley but not the Windings one.

  8. James Schend says:

    True experts will do:

    1337!!!!one1!!one!eleven!!!!

  9. BryanK says:

    James — I’ve even seen something like:

    OMG!!!11!one1!eleven1onehundredandeleven!11

    (And once in a while, even bigger numbers, though in that case they rarely do the "progression".)  Generally that’s at userfriendly, although I would bet that it happens elsewhere too.

  10. Nekto2 says:

    o o
     |
    _/

  11. That is SO thirteenthreeseven.

    Which is oddly enough the only reasonably cool way to say that.

    You can’t say thirteenthirtyseven because that might be a thirty followed by a seven. You can’t say thirteenthirty-seven because it might word wrap. And onethousandthreehundredthirtyseven is just too damn long.

    Besides, thirteen is a cool number, and thirteen plus three plus seven is 23 which is a tremendously cool number. Thirteen plus thirty-seven is fifty, which is not cool at all unless you pronounce it "fitty", and even then it’s nowhere near as cool as 23.

    I frequently use the number 1638 as a "magic" constant, but nobody ever knows why until they happen to see it pop up in a debugger’s watch window.

  12. Yeah, the exclamation points :)

    A lot of people use them as Peter’s "-ly y’rs", putting a summary of the message in between the characters.

  13. Noah Richards says:

    The "1"s and "one"s at the end of exclamation points are not making fun of l33t; they are making fun of the girls in middle-school who get so excited that they hold down the exclamation point (shift+1) at the end of each sentence, but accidentally let up on the shift key too early.  Hence the effect: "I <3 U!!!!!!1".  

  14. Revenant says:

    I’ve also seen a row of exclamation marks like so:

    OMG!!!11!one1!elevenfactorial!11

    Don’t you love it when maths geeks take the piss?

  15. Scott says:

    Some versions of Messenger use "(au)" (stands for Auto) as an emoticon for a car.

    It’s now common among some of my friends to simply use "au" to indicate which one of is driving.  If we’re feeling especially cryptic, we’ll just use "gold".

  16. J says:

    It is all a lie. I never smile.

  17. Matthew says:

    Gecko is quite correct. There is no J in Wingdings. Using J and specifying font Wingdings should not result in a smily face, as under font substitution rules if the requested glyph (a J) is not found, it should use a font that does have it. You can’t simply say ‘use the letter in the same "position" as J would be’. You should of course use the unicode for a smily. <font face=Wingdings>J</font> is a Microsoft hack that unfortunately has never been corrected.

    Just totally wrong, and contrary to standards

  18. ender says:

    Speaking of e-mails, why do some versions of Outlook put the word "Message" (localised in non-English versions) at the start of plain-text version of messages (when the message is sent as HTML)?

  19. Sudsy says:

    That explains how J Allard got his name.

  20. Stu says:

    I suppose this is an artifact of Microsoft employees using Word as their email editor in Outlook?

    Word automatically substitutes a wingdings smiley face when you type :) or :-) by default.

  21. RussN says:

    Is it not interesting how devices influence culture?

    I have seen people mocking ‘leet’ speak by using cos(0) and sin(pi/2) in a large exclamation mark/1 string, e.g.  "I m 1337!!!!111cos(0)!111!!sin(pi/2)"

  22. Jepp says:

    Thanks, that solves a long running mystery.

  23. Neil says:

    J39916800

  24. Ender: Why not ask the Outlook team?

  25. Jonathan says:

    Re: Gecko displaying a J anyways:

    I’m not an expert in fonts, but how does Gecko know that Wingdings doesn’t contain a J?  Wingding’s J just looks a lot different (like a smiley).  Does Gecko call some Windows font API that says Wingdings is a symbol font and thus you shouldn’t use it?

  26. S says:

    Anybody knows how to type those unicode chars,

    I can type é by typing alt-0233 (numpad), but I get stuck when non-numeric chars come into play. Like the ☺ (alt-263A fails – so charmap helped me out here, but I’d like a faster way)

  27. 263A was hexadecimal, hence the x before it. 9786 is equivalent to it, try that.

    (Two days late, so this is probably pointless to post, but…)

  28. This hit us on the IE blog back in one of our very first posts. Tony Chor (my boss and the IE team GPM) put a smiley in his post to convey sarcasm but it posted as a ‘J’ which seemed to rile up our readers to no end as they now took Tony to be serious.

    We have since learned our lesson, and we now completely abstain from all attemps at humor in our posts J

    -Christopher

  29. Madis Kalme says:

    With Mozilla family, if you select the smiley and right-click on it – you will be prompted for "Search web for J".

    With the UNICODE one, you will be prompted to search for smiley-face, but Google thinks its an empty character and doesn’t return any results.

    Hmm…interesting

  30. BryanK says:

    > if you select the smiley and right-click on it – you will be prompted for "Search web for J".

    I would guess that happens because the font used in the popup menu is not wingdings.  Therefore, inserting the UTF-16 value 0x004A into a menu whose font shows that code-point as a "J" glyph will display a "J" glyph.  Likewise with the Unicode smiley-face symbol — the font used in the menu has a glyph for that code-point, which looks like a smiley-face (as it should).

    This *may* also be the reason some Mozilla browsers show the J as a J; perhaps they don’t use the Wingdings font for some reason.  Though I don’t know for sure.  (It’s even possible that the wingdings font-family is blacklisted for everything except <font face=> tags in quirks mode, though I don’t know if it is.)

    (I do know that this is why overloading character values in a font is not a good idea — those code points have assigned meanings, and I believe assigned glyphs also.  If one user doesn’t have your font installed in one place, or your font isn’t used for *every* string that comes from you, then your user will get confused.)

    As for putting smileys into text — I would assume that ;-) or :-) or any of the hundred variations on that theme would work much better than a solution that requires a certain font face to be present in all browsers…

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