The Rise of Emoji

If you’re not currently aware of emoji, you’re missing out.1 In fact, you’ve already missed out when it comes to this site. For those who’ve thus far remained unaware, emoji are a set of ideograms available on most current computer platforms. They originated in Japan, but have since spread to the world at large. Think of them as the next evolution of smiley faces made out of punctuation. Using emoji, it’s possible to move beyond relatively simplistic textual representations of faces like :), :(, or even ~(_8^(|)2, to real pictures like 😃 (smiling face with open mouth) and 😬 (grimacing face3).

But if all emoji provided were colorful emoticons, they wouldn’t be doing much for us. After all, chat programs have optionally translated text faces into smiley pictures for years. No, the real power of emoji is seen in the rest of the character set. With these additional symbols, it’s possible to use a single picture to convey entire ideas. For instance, the 🌊 “water wave” emoji represents One Foot Tsunami well4:

Water Wave
Really, it’s most appropriate in its tiny form.

And of course, 💩 “pile of poo” is both popular and appropriate for almost all scenarios:

Pile of Poo
Gosh he’s friendly.

Emoji can even stretch the mind. Thanks to emoji’s large but still limited set of characters, coming up with emoji sentences can be a fun challenge. For instance, you may be able to decipher this idiom: 🍎 🚫 👇           🌳

Red Apple No Entry Sign White Down Pointing Backhand Index                                     Deciduous Tree
That’d be “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

Emoji have become popular particularly on mobile devices, as Apple and Google have included them in their respective OSes. Here are simple instructions for activating and using emoji on iOS and Android. The popularity of emoji has grown so much that the emoji keyboard is enabled by default in Apple’s forthcoming iOS 8. That’s big news.

For those who are already fans of emoji, even bigger news arrived last week with the announcement that the emoji standard is being extended. Approximately 250 new emoji are now part of the standard, and soon your devices will allow you to select such useful gems as a “White Hard Shell Floppy Disk” or a “Black Hard Shell Floppy Disk”. The most excitement, however, has definitely been generated by a single new symbol:

Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended
[Image credit: Emoji Blog]

My fellow Earthlings, our long international emoji-middle-finger-less nightmare is (almost) over. Yes, the new emoji set includes “Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended”. With it, I think our “alphabet” may finally be complete. Hell, you could probably boil at least 30% of my communication down to this single emoji. Forget “Yo”. An app that just sends the emoji middle finger is what we really need.


  1. And if you’re currently using Google’s Chrome brower, I’m afraid you’re going to miss out when it comes to this post too. ↩︎

  2. For reasons beyond my understanding, I still know how to type out a detailed Homer Simpson emoticon. Thanks for that useful trip down the memory lane of mid-90’s AOL, brain. Now I’m off to sketch the Stussy S on my Trapper Keeper folders, because I can still do that via muscle memory too. ↩︎

  3. I use this little guy to indicate a tooth suck, as a response to an awkward situation, particularly one that’s amusing or the result of comical misunderstanding. ↩︎

  4. That’s particularly true on Apple devices, where the emoji character is patterned after Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, just as this site’s imagery is. If you really want to get into emoji minutia, you should be aware that emoji will actually look different on different platforms. For example, the following image shows how the “Airplane” emoji appears on Apple devices, Android devices, and Twitter, respectively:

    Assorted Airplane Emoji
    Shirley there should be a twisted-up airplane in here.

    While each platform draws their own picture set for emoji, they all follow the guidelines for what the set should contain. ↩︎