- From its humble beginnings to changing the culture of communication
JAN. 1, Feb. 14. And now, July 17 is joining these behemoths of holidays as “The World Emoji Day.” Just last year, with the release of iOS 11, Apple Inc. added a new day of celebration on their iCal—their calendar app—called the World Emoji Day. Earlier in the same year, in February, Sony Pictures Animation and Columbia Pictures released an animated movie called The Emoji Movie. Jesus Christ and the Queen of England have special days and movies for themselves, and now, so do emojis. XD. These miniature, round, and electronic icons seem to have become important figures in our world. So, what are they? How are they so prevalent and significant around us now? This is ‘Emoticon-ism’ 101.
From ^^ to 😊—the history of emoticons
Emoticons are incredibly convenient, innate in the software of every smartphone. With a click, you are presented with dozens of emojis to choose from, everything from a smiley face to a picture of a palm tree. These expressive symbols, however, had humble beginnings.
Along with the advent and development of digital devices, the roots of these small picture icons can be traced back to Japan. Emoji is a compound of two Japanese words—“e” meaning ‘picture’ and “moji” meaning ‘character.’ In the 1990s, some Japanese teenagers started to use emoticons on pagers. According to The Japan Times, the “first modern emoji was created by Shigetaka Kurita, who was part of a team given the task of preparing for the February 1999 debut of NTT Docomo’s mobile internet platform.”* Kurita invented 176 pixelated symbols in total, which became the basis of emojis we use in the 21st century. Unfortunately, until then, Japanese pixels were confined to the country as mobile phone software had to be kept a secret from the outside world, the Japanese Times adds.
Wider use for emoticons stalled, until America joined and enhanced the Japanese trend starting from 2008. Unicode adopted emojis into its system, which allowed Google and Apple to employ emojis into the messaging options of their products. The idiom of emoticons, then, swept the world, becoming a global sensation in 2011 when Apple implanted emojis into the iPhone 5 keyboard with the release of iOS5.
Since 2011, emojis have been living the life of a celebrity. In 2015, in Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” selection, an emoji was included. Furthermore, in 2017, the Dictionary not only selected an emoji, but also added all collections of emojis into the dictionary, confirming its stance as a form of language. In the same year, the Global Language Monitor announced “emoji” as a top-trending word. Many emoji-related planforms have been invented as well: Emojinalysis, a blog that psychoanalyzes people’s purposes in using an emoticon, Emoj.li, an emoji-only social network, and many more. Businesses are also borrowing the faces of emojis as their models to use in advertising. Texting or tweeting a pizza emoji to Domino’s leads you to the order page, Snapchat has invested over $1 million to turn a user’s face into a look-alike emoji, and even the giant bank Goldman Sachs has reported research results on millennials using only emojis!* Of course, besides these, there is The Emoji Movie and the World Emoji Day. It has won awards, has fan blogs, models for companies, and acts in movies. Undoubtedly, emoticons started from the bottom and now have become an invaluable part of modern language.
Why emojis? —the usefulness of the emoji
The fame of these pictorial icons is unquestionable. Thus, the question might become why they became famous. What was their appeal to the public? How did they become essential parts of your daily communication? These are some functions of emojis, the reasons why emojis are replacing words as rulers of language.
1. When you cannot be bothered
Emojis are, above everything else, a time saver because sending one yellow face can convey your emotions efficiently and effectively. When your friend tells you a shocking story, try sending a “:o” face rather than words. Or, if one is not enough, why not send multiple to convey how surprised you are: “:o :o :o :o :o :o”. And typing five surprised emojis is probably faster than typing a sufficiently surprised reaction—in words. Emojis are not only effective, but also express efficiently: the fundamental reason for their popularity.
Or, you know that awkward moment when you do not know how to end a conversation while chatting. In those cases, as you might already know, emoticons are the best cure. Let’s imagine for a second. You’ve asked for a favor and you’ve already said “thank you so much!” with the replier answering with a “you’re welcome 😊.” Then, to leave it, you feel bad and awkward. So, what you do then is send a smiley face with a love heart. Phew, you are saved from the awkward guilt of leaving the conversation empty! As described, emoticons come in handy when you cannot be bothered with small talks; they truly are the saviors of awkwardness.
2. When you want to express: “what you just said is not just funny, but is SUPER DUPER FUNNY THAT I AM TEARING WITH LAUGHER!”
While being efficient and quick, emoji can also enhance. This is where the famous “Face with Tears of Joy” comes in handy. As mentioned earlier, Oxford English Dictionary in 2015 announced an emoji as one of the “Words of the Year.” That celebrated emoji is the “Face with Tears of Joy,” a face depicting one’s reaction to something extremely funny. Again, let’s say your friend is humorous. Facebooking messaging, texting, snapchatting with her is always a “LOL.” Giggling while chatting, you feel as though “LOL” and “Hahahaha” cannot express how much you are laughing right now. Here, “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji is the salt and pepper to your conversation. With an addition of an emoticon, you can now express: “what you just said is not just funny, but is SUPER DUPER FUNNY THAT I AM TEARING WITH LAUGHTER!”
3. For variety of occasions, over all ages: When you must say something mean without being cruel
Emoticons, by their name, do still sound like a teenager’s phenomenon. During their early days, emojis were tools of teenage communication; however, they now cover all ages from teens to the middle aged to the elderly, as long as they have a mobile phone. Just think of how many smiley or angry faces your mother sends you. Plenty, based on personal experience. Emoticons truly have no age limit.
Not only emojis are free to those of all ages, but they also have no usage limit. Emojis are frequently accepted in conversations between close relatives or friends, but they can also be handy in unfamiliar talks. Imagine you are a client and you have asked for a designer to design you something. After the first meeting, the designer sends you the first draft file via chat. You check it, and it is, sorry to say, complete rubbish. You have to tell the designer “this is in no way what I wanted, do it again please” in a way that you do not hurt his feelings and completely blow off his effort and time. In this ironic situation of needing to be mean without being cruel, emoticons are also the solution. “Could I have another version please? 😊 It is really good, but I feel like it is not something I imagined. Sorry! ☹” Of course, the changes in wording helped, but you cannot ignore the encompassing power of emojis here.
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They tame or enhance communication. Though electronic, these icons have been making everyday conversations more lively, efficient, and effective since their inception, deserving all their fame today. They, literally, have become your smiles and laughter, and they definitely will continue to do so 😊.
Song Min-sun email@example.com
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