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Gif-darmoks allow the insertion by reference of “reaction gifs” into spoken conversation, text-only correspondence, or other contexts that do not lend themselves to the direct and immediate display of internet-searchable images. They accomplish this with creativity and panache, unexpectedly injecting a bit of mythologically-tinted metaphor into the conversation, as they borrow their structure and purpose from the celebrated Star Trek episode whence they get their name.
To deploy a gif-darmok when the image of a well-known reaction gif overwhelms you, simply state a literal description of that gif using a carefully minimalist syntax reminiscent of that spoken by the aliens in “Darmok”. Looking at a list of quotes from that episode we see that the general template goes “[Person], [momentary attribute of that person]”. Sokath, his eyes uncovered, for example, or Zinda, his face black, his eyes red. But we see plenty of variation, too: the subject may be two people, or a river or mountain rather than a person. It might describe (in just a few words) the place where the person stands, and what they see.
Allow me to present three examples that I have used recently, along with a literal gloss of my intended meaning for each:
Troy, bearing pizzas, his face falling. (“You arrived expecting camaraderie, but all that greets you is chaos and flame.”)
The black lab on the porch, tennis balls raining. (“So many things call out for our attention at once that we can attend to none of them.”)
Michael opens the paper bag, closes it. (“I sought more information, and received exactly what was promised, and now I am full of regret.”)
I see reaction gifs — and their kissing cousins, emoji — as a novel but richly meaningful, accessible, and legitimate way to express oneself through sharing pointers to common cultural references, and I cannot resist attempting to back-port them into spoken language through the mechanism that “Darmok” demonstrated a quarter-century ago. I also love the fun and challenge of creating and interpreting gif-darmoks, and the way that — by their nature — they elevate their subjects from anonymous dancing loops to named people within a single moment that bespeaks a larger epic, each one a proper-noun myth-hero bearing our culture forward.
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