Linguistics Washi Tape from Cognitive Surplus

Which came to Monica Macaulay yesterday, who reported on Facebook, “I’m confused, as always.” The stuff:

(#1) [caption:] Here’s an emerald green and canary yellow roll of Linguistics Washi Tape featuring an array of global alphabets

Several readers wondered what the market would be for such stuff, except for us linguists, and would any of us actually want it? Fair questions, but as it turns out, they pretty much apply to all of Cognitive Surplus’s products, which are simultaneously earnest, quirky, and intellectually lightweight. But some are great fun, and some are beautiful.

But what’s it all about, Alfie?

The company name is clearly borrowed from the title of Clay Shirky’s 2010 book. From Wikipedia, with the crucial bit boldfaced:

Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators is a 2010 non-fiction book by Clay Shirky, originally published with the subtitle “Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age”. The book is an indirect sequel to Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, which covered the impact of social media. Cognitive Surplus focuses on describing the free time that individuals have to engage with collaborative activities within new media. Shirky’s text searches to prove that global transformation can come from individuals committing their time to active engagement with technology.

The company, from their Who We Are page:

In 2013, Kristen and her husband Geoff started designing and hand-making sustainable goods to celebrate science in a tiny NYC apartment. From those days of screen printing and storing wares beneath a lofted bed, we’ve come a long way. We’ve traded Manhattan for Central Oregon’s high desert, but our mission has stayed the same: design and build goods that show-off the beauty of science while trying to leave the world just a little better than we found it.

Their products:

Notebooks (of various sizes, linings, etc.)

Multi-Pack Collections: Stationery, Greeting Cards, Page Flags, Pens, Stickers, Washi Tape, Wax Stamps, Wax Sticks

Kitchen + Bar: Beer Glasses, Drinking Glasses, Wine Glasses, Rocks Glasses, Bottles, Mugs, Cocktail Accessories, Social Chemistry, Heroes of Science, STEMware

Home; Pillow Covers, Tea Towels, Candles, Bags, Tote Bags, Pencil Bags

Wall Art: Museum Prints, Screen Prints

Apparel: Scarves, Unisex Graphic Tees, Youth Graphic Tees, Baby Bodysuits, Toddler Tees

So what is washi tape? From the Zenpop site “What is Japanese Washi Tape” on 4/3/22:

Washi tape comes from Japan. It’s a word used mostly in the Europe or America to talk about what Japanese people simply refer to as masking tape (マスキングテープ). Washi (和紙) is a type of Japanese paper, and although washi tape isn’t always made of this paper, the patterns used to decorate it as well as the attention to detail are reminiscent of this Japanese art.

Stationery enthusiasts, crafters, and bullet journalers probably all know about the wonderful world of Japanese washi tape. Used to decorate almost anything with relative ease, washi tape is unique not only in its variety of designs, but also in the level of stickiness that leaves no residue and can be set and reset on your crafts as many times as you need. Not only are they reusable and biodegradable, but they have a rich history rooted in DIY and craft work.

The Cognitive Surplus couple make a great many kinds of washi tape, some of which I find very appealing, though I have absolutely no call for decorative tape in my current life — beetles! cactuses! great beards of science! Haeckel jellyfish! lab glassware! diatoms! The full list, in all its wonderful peculiarity:

Beetles, Songbirds, Skeleton, Woodland Forest, Mushroom Parade, Brain Scan, Gems & Minerals, Butterflies, Chickens, Mushrooms, Anatomical Heart, Honey Bees, Lunar Phases, Into the Woods (trees), Deep Space, Eggs, Night Sky, Great Women of Science, Poisonous Plants, Sea Monsters, Sea Shore, Genetics & DNA, Butterfly Garden, Succulents, Equations That Changed the World, Infectious Diseases, Garden Friends, Fruits & Vegetables, Heartbeat, Haeckel Jellyfish, Freshwater Fish, Laboratory Glassware, Neurons, Whales & Sharks, Retro Astronomy, Slither & Creep, In the Lab, Retro Chemistry, Electronics Engineering, Retro Microbiology, Creatures of the Ocean Deep, Retro Dinosaurs, Mars Rover, Retro Space, Linguistics, Retro Marine Life, Whimsical Dinosaurs, Hieroglyphics, Cell Biology Meiosis, Layers of the Earth, Modern Physics, Cave Paintings, Cactuses. Archaeology, Retro Botany, Teeth, Spiders & Webs, Veterinary Science, Retro Insects, Bicycles, Microscopic Life, Paleontology, Diatoms, Mechanical Engineering, Retro Mammals, Great Beards of Science, March of Ants, Stentors [the protozoans]

(The 10-12-year-old Arnold Zwicky would truly have loved this stuff.)

Back to “Linguistics”. The Cognitive Surplus Linguistics design, a grabbag of writing systems from around the world, hasn’t made it (yet) to t-shirts, mugs, pillow covers, or scarves. It has, however, made it to the Cognitive Surpus notebook world (both softcover and hardcover). And the notebook cover gives us a much better view of the design:

(#2) [caption:] Language encodes our history, our mythology, our science, art, and culture — let this Linguistics notebook inspire all your communication. Chinese characters, Arabic script, Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as Hebrew, Phoenician, Greek, and many more elements of language, all rendered in pale yellow on an emerald green background.

Maybe they could be encouraged to look at IPA charts, or some idealized spectrograms. Maybe some cool dialect maps.

One Response to “Linguistics Washi Tape from Cognitive Surplus”

  1. Ellen Says:

    For three years that very notebook had been on my Amazon “gift ideas” list for my eldest (who has an associate’s in world languages and is working on a bachelor’s in linguistics). But I never got around to getting it because it was so *pricey*. (The only place I’d ever seen it besides Amazon — a brick-and-mortar bookstore — it was also expensive.)

    Today, in an “oh good lord” moment, I learned that it’s actually affordable on Cognitive Surplus’s own website. Thanks for bringing it up!

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