Hieroglyphic sex graffiti

Rarely does a single piece of graffiti merit its own blog post. This morning I found one such piece of graffiti on the 4th floor, next to the ad for (subsequently reverted) Wikipedia vandalism, near the Facebook thumbs up.

The second row of hieroglyphs in the image to the right (click to see larger) were written on the wall in blue pen. Beneath those hieroglyphs, a comment that Hieratic sucks.

Were this written at any other university, I’d figure someone was just doodling birds, eyeballs and candy canes. But this is UofC, home of the Oriental Institute, where first-years can take “Intro to Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphs” to fulfill their language requirement. Almost certainly, these had to be actual hieroglyphs.

So I printed out the photo, asked a coworker for a recommendation for an Egyptologist (naturally, he knew one) and dropped by the office of said Egyptologist. Glancing at the paper, with a chuckle he translated it off the top of his head, transliterated it, and re-wrote the text in better handwriting (the first row of hieroglyphs).

This piece of graffiti reads ỉw ỉr.n.n st m dw3t sp sn*, or, “We did it twice in the morning”. To be fair, the “it” isn’t specified– maybe they built two pyramids that morning– but I’ll leave the interpretation up to the reader.

* The dots are morpheme boundaries; the “3″ is how Wikipedia saves you from having to install a font that has the actual grapheme in a private use area, since it’s not yet part of Unicode. Seemed reasonable to me.

A pseudo-scientific analysis of the graffiti, with disclaimers for the pedantic

About a month ago, I was invited to put together a guest post for Inkling Magazine, and the resulting pseudo-scientific analysis of the graffiti is now up!

The “analysis” considers:

  1. Happiness, as measured in the ratio to smiley faces to frowny faces
  2. Love vs. hate, with a spiffy Venn diagram of the objects of the aforementioned emotions
  3. Sex: to what extent are ostensibly “sexual” words used in a sexual way?
  4. Anatomy: a comparison of the frequency with which male vs. female body parts are drawn and/or referenced
  5. Temporal fluctuations in love, despair, and sex graffiti

For my pedantic readers (including my beloved husband), or anyone else who missed the “pseudo-” part of the “pseudo-scientific analysis”, let me note that the sample size for any of this is too small to make any actual conclusions. Furthermore:

  1. Smiley faces and frowny faces basically function as punctuation, and their scope is almost always limited to the statement(s) they accompany. I know they’re not an indicator of general happiness or unhappiness. But I couldn’t resist the idea of a smiley-to-frowny-face ratio.
  2. Yes, it’s possible that people just write more love graffiti than hate graffiti, and the difference in graffiti frequency isn’t reflective of people’s private emotions. Please get over it.
  3. I’d actually like to look into the frequency of non-sexual uses of the “sexual” terms mentioned in the post, across a larger corpus of English. Maybe there’s nothing special about the graffiti data.
  4. There’s a graph depicting a vagina in the B-level men’s room, but I consider the B-level men’s room graffiti to be almost a different data set, and I didn’t include other material from bathrooms.
  5. Including the graffiti from the carrels might change the conclusions about the temporal fluctuations of love, despair, and sex. But I really have no way to date those (I’ve gone to the carrels 3-4 times in 2 years) so… tough cookies.

Beyond the Reg: Make-your-own graffiti space

As noted previously, Crerar isn’t exactly a hotbed for graffiti. Fun things show up on whiteboards sometimes (though, no doubt, this penis, for instance, was part of a legitimate core bio review session) but compared to the Reg, there’s not so much there.

One day last year, that changed. A student covered the Crerar elevator with sheets of paper, taped a box of pens near the buttons, and invited other students to adorn the elevator with graffiti. “Neil sucks/blows” appears to be a running theme. (And I thought it was Nate who sucks!)

Beyond the Reg: lawyers and social workers don’t commit class B misdemeanors

Today I set foot in the School of Social Service Administration Library and D’Angelo Law Library for the first, and possibly last, time. I had to look up where the SSA Library was, and not-exactly lie (Security guard: “Are you a law school student?” Me: “Staff.” Security guard: “I haven’t seen you around before.” Me: “I generally work across the Midway.” Security guard: “Okay.”) to even get into the Law Library, and I can’t say either was worth the trouble from a graffiti-collecting perspective.

SSA Library

About the library

Apparently, the SSA is one of the world’s leading schools for training social workers (ranked 3rd and 1st). That said, I’d be surprised if it would come up at all if you asked UofC undergrads to name the graduate programs at the University. The library is tiny in comparison to the others on campus, and only houses 37,000 volumes.

Who studies there?

I’d guess it’s pretty much limited to SSA students– ie, master’s and doctoral students who are probably serious about working in a difficult field.

What are the study spaces like?

There’s some tables and a couple couches in an open reading area.

Where is graffiti written?

It isn’t. I looked everywhere I could without seeming too suspicious, and while the library feels a little dingy and run-down, it’s quite free of graffiti.

I came across a filing cabinet drawer labeled twice as “alcohol charities”, and one of the hands made it look a bit like “alcohol chanties”… like, sea shanties for drinkers, perhaps? A euphemism for Irish drinking songs? Admittedly, I’m grasping at straws here.

D’Angelo Law Library

About the library

Located on the 2nd – 6th floors of the law school, the D’Angelo Law Library has a website that doesn’t seem to include metrics useful for comparison like how many books it has.

Who studies there?

Law school students, faculty (who appear to have their own offices in the library), and various lawyers and judges with the right forms of ID. Or anyone else who can slip into the building along with a group of law school students. I knew someone in college who really enjoyed going over there to study.

What are the study spaces like?

It’s mostly tables– in rows along the windows, and in study areas towards the center of each floor. There’s also study carrels with built-in bookshelves, most of which are assigned according to a priority list. (You can imagine how the assignment to individuals might cut down on graffiti there.)

Where is graffiti written?

It isn’t. I had hopes that I’d find witticisms scattered here and there, moans of despair about the bar exam, quotes involving “Truth, Justice and the American way” or “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups…”

Maybe it’s because they’re too busy pursuing serious careers, and too grown-up to be scrawling on the walls the way undergrads do. Maybe it’s because a first offense of criminal defacement of property, causing up to $300 damage, is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,500. (720 ILCS 5/21‑1.3)

Alas, not even the (women’s) restrooms are safe harbor for graffiti. Pristine, graffiti-free metal, all of them.

Indeed, a few revisions to the name and address on the elevator Certificate of Inspection were the closest thing I could find to graffiti in the whole place. And even that is nothing compared to the elevator Certificate of Inspection hijinks you can find in, say, Foster Hall.

Beyond the Reg: the graffiti of Crerar science library

While Regenstein is the biggest library at the University of Chicago, it’s only one of five* libraries on campus. My vague impression has been that most of the “good stuff”, from a graffiti perspective, is at the Reg, but I’ve never actually looked into the graffiti at the other libraries. As a student, I’d set foot into Crerar (science library) and Eckhart (math library) maybe a handful of times, and to this day I’ve never entered D’Angelo Law or the Social Service Administration libraries. I aim to change that with a series of posts I’m calling “Beyond the Reg”.

Crerar is the easiest data to start with– for the next couple months, until we move back to the Reg, my office is based out of Crerar. What’s more, last week I got a tip about some good graffiti in the men’s bathroom in Crerar but the logistical issues involved in the Crerar men’s bathrooms make that the topic of another post.

About the library

Crerar is the “science library”, home to “more than 1.4 million volumes in the biological, medical and physical sciences as well as collections in general science and the philosophy and history of science, medicine, and technology”1.

Who studies there?

As a former student, my impression of Crerar is that it’s where the “serious” science students go to study. (This in contrast to all the folks writing “I hate chemistry!” on the walls of the Reg.) This would include your serious pre-med types, med students, and science grad students. Unlike the Reg which is pretty deserted in the early morning hours, by 8:30 or 9 AM the big open study room on the first floor of Crerar already has more than a few patrons.

What are the study spaces like?

The first-floor study area (made up of rows of tables) seems to be well-attended, but the second and third floors also have plenty of tables and a few study carrels mixed in with the bookstacks.

There are a lot more tables than carrels, and there aren’t nooks with study desks built into the walls like the Reg. On one hand, that’s bad news for graffiti, but the lower amount of foot traffic in certain “public” areas (like the staircase between floors) makes them more feasible targets for vandalism than the equivalent in the Reg.

Where is graffiti written?

The tables appear to be graffiti-free, and I could only find two pieces in the carrels. The major loci of “graffiti” are the blackboards and movable whiteboards in and around the study rooms. The bathrooms are also home to some graffiti.

Graffiti content
Alliterative socialism

There’s a (possibly single-person) alliterative meme following the pattern of “[Socialist-related] [social event]“. “Bolshevik bash” is the “flagship” phrase that appears on a carrel, on the stairs, and in the center of larger piece of graffiti in the women’s bathroom (see right, click for larger version):

  • Bolshevik bash
  • Communist cavort
  • Soviet sleep-over
  • Marxist mingle
  • Proletariat potluck
  • Collectivist cookout


The one and only (non-Bolshevik) piece of graffiti in the study carrels is written in Korean, and reads: “I’m gonna study like a crazy maniac. . . . Until the day that I become a surgeon! – Who?”

More soothing is a piece I found written in lovely cursive on the blackboard of a green study room, reading simply, “do not fret”. (Click for larger size.)


There’s something about doodles and whiteboards. Like the A-level in the Reg, the whiteboards in Crerar appear to be a magnet for strange, non-academic drawings. Did you know that Crerar hosts the meetings of the Secret Chemistry Club? And most girls go through a phase of loving ponies… granted, not usually around the same time they’re possibly studying for the MCATs.

Special thanks to Andrew Lee Chen for the tip about Crerar bathroom graffiti, and to David Yung Ho Kim for translating the Korean.

* I’m not counting Harper, which doesn’t have books anymore, or Mansueto, which is a giant hole in the ground at the moment.

1About the John Crerar Library


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