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Mojibake: Gibberish Text Explained

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms, Uncategorized
 
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Surfing the internet, you’ll find quite a bit of talk that could be considered gibberish. Internet slang such as “noob,” words written in numbers instead of letters (“H3ll0!,”) and lots of acronyms that don’t make much sense on first viewing, if ever; lolz, wtf, rofl, smh, etc. While this type of “gibberish” could be researched for definitions/translations, there is another kind of gibberish which amounts to a sequence of characters which have no meaning as they are displayed. Such gibberish may look like ¤©æ¸ŠèÖí¶«©@%¿™šä, or even just a plain old row of “??????????” Gibberish such as this has its own nickname around the web: “Mojibake.”

Mojibake occurs when a computer program, such as your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox,) word processor (Microsoft Word, Open Office,) or e-mail client (Windows Mail, Outlook, Eudora,) attempts to interpret and display characters which have a different “character encoding” than that which is available in the program or computer operating system (i.e. Windows XP, Windows Visa, Windows 7, etc.) that is attempting to read said characters.

Character encoding, in its most basic form, is a code which pairs letters, numbers, and symbols with a second descriptive set of characters or actions which act as translation and display devices between two systems. A prime example of character encoding can be found in a system invented many, many decades before the advent of the personal computer; the Braille system. Made up of raised dots aligned in varying patterns which correspond to different letters and numbers in the alphabet, Braille can be likened to character encoding on your computer quite easily: dots in a Braille written book represent encoded letters and numbers (i.e. computer encoded letters, numbers, and symbols in web pages on the internet) which are then read and translated into English by a trained hand (i.e. a web browser such as Internet Explorer) and finally processed into meaningful sentences and phrases; in both cases, by our brains.

Just as Braille words with too many or too few dots would be unintelligible when touched, gibberish characters (Mojibake) will show themselves when Internet Explorer attempts to display characters on a web page containing incompatible character encoding. This type of incorrect character encoding, and the gibberish it subsequently outputs, is commonly due to a web page, document, or other file which had been originally written in a foreign language with characters which are not compatible with your operating system or computer programs’ default character encoding. For example, if you go to a website in Internet Explorer which has been programmed in a foreign language, using character encoding not supported by your browser, you will see something like this:

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Mojibake Gibberish

So how do you get the web page to show properly? Methods of fixing incompatible character encoding, and ridding yourself of Mojibake, vary from program to program. Fixes usually entail changing the character encoding defaults in your program(s) and/or installing a “language pack” which will allow your program(s) to correctly translate the gibberish on your screen into distinguishable characters, as written in their native language:

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And that, in a nutshell, is why our programs occasionally display gibberish-like characters also known as Mojibake.

~J. Conboy

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