If you’re a millennial, you were probably born knowing what emoji are. But for all the rest of us, there was a long, dark time on the Internet when we needed to communicate with full words and create actual sentences. Imagine that! Thank God, one guy had the brilliant idea to create small pictures that can express feelings, desires, and objects, establishing a kind of universal visual language.
It was a cool idea and resource to save words and create easier and faster messages. Currently, there are thousands, and their production is not slowing down; more are coming, giving you extra options even though it’s already hard to scroll to the end of the emoji keyboard! Have you wondered who is behind this madness? Me too! Let’s dive together into the history and evolution of the emoji to find out the answer.
Who created the emoji?
The creator of the emoji is Shigetaka Kurita. He is a Japanese graphic designer who developed the emoji in 1999 for the local mobile operator – DoCoMo. In the late 90s, the Japanese people were crazy about writing messages to each other (SMS), and the Internet was just starting to gain popularity on mobile devices. DoCoMo formed a team led by mister Kurita; he was tasked to create the first mobile Internet platform of the company in an efficient way that uses fewer data.
Shigetata was up for the challenge. He sought inspiration from all around him. He saw that people in the weather forecast simply put a cloud with drops and everybody understood it would be raining there. In the manga (Japanese style of comic books), they used (and still do) symbols for expressing emotions. He also examined the Japanese and Chinese written languages, where a symbol can mean an entire word.
In the end, he created the first set of emoji – 176 of them. They were small images, in a 12 by 12-pixel format. This set covered topics like emotions, technology, sports, weather, and transportation modes. They were far away from the crisp images that you use now on your phone.
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What is the origin of the word ‘emoji’?
Such a cool invention needed a catchy name. Emoji was created through the combination of two Japanese words, “picture” (絵) and “letter” or “character” (文字). In Japanese, “picture” is pronounced “eh” and “letter” or “character”, “mōji”. The original objective of the name was to refer to the pictograph. In other words, a graph or image that represents or expresses ideas, physical objects, beings, etc.
But many people mistook the meaning of the name, assuming it was coming from the English word “emotion”. This mistake easily spread globally due to the use of emoji, which very frequently was -and still is, used to express people’s moods. But let’s be fair with the creator, emoji and their name are Japanese creations.
And one last thing, the plural of emoji in Japanese is “emoji”. It’s not rare that in English, the plural of many foreign words gets adapted following the rules of this language. That’s why “emojis” is also used. In this article, I will use the Japanese plural “emoji” to honor its root. So, before someone gets ready to shoot with a comment such as “the S is missing” or “this guy doesn’t how to use the English rules for writing,” stop! It is not a mistake but a conscientious and fair decision 😉.
When did emoji become international?
So, DoCoMo released the first set of emoji that were copied by the rest of the Japanese operators. But the emoji didn’t go viral worldwide immediately. Take up was slow. In October 2008, Google added emoji to Gmail, and one month later, Apple included them in their latest iPhone OS (iOS 2.2 update) but only for the Japanese market. It was a step ahead of the emoji’s popularization but still, the set remained mostly local. To have emoji in the iPhone while living out of Japan required hacking. Users in the U.S., for instance, were downloading Japanese apps because this was a way to access the Japanese keyboard and emoji.
In 2009, the topic reached the Unicode Consortium table looking for emoji standardisation. After collecting feedback from Europe, U.S., and Japan, they got an agreement on a standard set of 722 emoji.
Some of the issues discussed at that time among the countries were that there were flags of only some countries, not all of them. Characters included were available only in white skin color. There were mostly male emoji representing different careers, but only one female(a bride).
Finally, the agreed emoji set was released in October 2010. This was the key step for emoji to become an international standard and to be spread globally. In 2011, Apple included the emoji keyboard in its iOS version 5.0, and this time, it was available worldwide. Android joined the emoji trend in 2012. From 2015, the emoji keyboard was included by default in the iOS (iPhone Operating System), therefore accessible for all users.
From that moment, the popularity of emoji increased dramatically! It was the Renaissance of mobile messaging. This time instead of only SMS, emoji were also in apps. Nowadays, they seem to be ingrained in our communication habits. Barely someone has not been tempted to send a happy face while messaging. The rest of us use them all the time. To say hi, to laugh, to bother someone, to awkwardly ask a girl out, to express our current state of mind, or even to break the ice to start a conversation. Yes! When finding adequate words is difficult, an emoji always works!
What is the Unicode Consortium?
The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit organization in charge of the standards for the internationalization of software and services. Its work is currently deployed on more than 20 billion devices worldwide. Among the members of the organization, there are individuals and representatives of organizations, corporations, and governments.
From its origin, one of its main tasks is to set the standards for character encoding. It unifies sets of characters that allow consistent encoding and representation in most of the existent writing systems. Through this work, it developed the Unicode Standard which includes around 149,186 characters, covering 161 historic and modern scripts, symbols, non-visual formatting and control codes, and emoji. These Unicode characters make it possible for all devices to exchange or share text no matter the language or symbols.
The Unicode Standard has been introduced into a lot of modern technologies, like operating systems, programming languages, Extensible Markup Language (XML), etc.
Consider that the language of machines is numbers. They communicate and execute their tasks by using numbers. For instance, to mean letters or other characters, machines give them a number.
Before the intervention of the Unicode Consortium and the development of the Unicode Standard, there were different systems (character encodings), limited in scope because they did not cover all the existent languages. And based on them the numbers were assigned. This made things chaotic because character encodings conflicted between them. When data was sent from one computer to another, the use of different encodings caused errors or data corruption. To make it clearer, think about two or three different encodings assigning the same number to different characters. Or using different numbers for the same character.
Developing, maintaining, and keeping this code up to date are key tasks of this organization. It defines as guidelines of its standardization mission:
• Universality, addressing the needs of world languages.
• Uniformity, fixed-width codes for efficient access.
• Uniqueness, bit sequence has only one interpretation into character codes.
Through time, it has incorporated more tasks like emoji standards for them to be identified across platforms and compatible with multilingual environments. That’s why you can successfully send a heart or thumbs up from your Android device to an iPhone.
Who is in charge of emoji?
The Unicode Consortium, or more accurately, the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, oversees emoji. From keeping its standards, and technical support, to analyzing new proposals, including or rejecting new emoji to be released.
It also creates proposals for the Unicode Technical Committee about new emoji and additional mechanisms and research, like longer-term mechanisms to support emoji as images (stickers).
The current head of the Subcommittee is Jennifer Daniel (Google), together with Ned Holbrook (Apple) and Ken Lunde (Apple).
How are new emoji chosen?
First of all, anyone can suggest a new emoji. All you have to do is submit the proposal to the Unicode Consortium. Guidelines and more information related to this are available on the official website of the organization. It’s free!
The emoji to be chosen must guarantee that it is visually different from the already existent, it can be well used, and it can’t be represented already.
If you are lucky and your proposal is chosen, the process to make it available can take up to two years.
How many emoji are there now?
Officially, Emoji 15.0 includes a total of 3,664 emoji. There are many available emoji and they’re still coming! And here I have a question for you, how many emoji do you use?
What’s the meaning of the eggplant emoji?
The eggplant emoji was included in Unicode 6.0 in 2010 with the official name of aubergine. It was directly added to the first edition of the Unicode Technical Standard for Emoji (Emoji 1.0) in 2015. It is a pioneer of this language!
But its controversial popularity was not immediate. Originally, the meaning of the eggplant emoji was exactly that, the visual representation of the vegetable called aubergine or eggplant. Besides, recalling the Japanese origin of emoji, in that country, eggplants represent good luck. They are linked to the New Year traditions. The first dream you have in the new year will be a prediction of the luck you will receive for the rest of the year. Dreaming of an eggplant means good luck.
But the eggplant emoji soon showed the world, how meanings can change from one to another latitude.
The Internet culture, mostly its use on social networks, assigned a sexual (unofficial) meaning to the eggplant emoji. People, especially in the U.S. and Canada, started using it to represent male genitalia and from there this use spread to other countries. In the opinion of these audiences, the eggplant has a phallic shape, therefore, they used it to save words especially when sexting or online dating.
The banana or cucumber that were previously used for years to represent manhood were changed to eggplant instead. In 2015, the controversy around the eggplant grew – so much so, that it was banned as a search term on Instagram.
If you think about it, reaching a technical standard is “easier” than a cultural one. The eggplant is not the only emoji that is used differently (meaning) based on the country. Some emoji’s popularity varies from country to country too. Making meanings and emoji use universal is a hard challenge!
What’s the difference between emoji and emoticons?
The difference between emoji and emoticons is that the first is more recent and they are cartoonish graphs, while emoticons are representations built through numbers, letters, and punctuation characters available on the regular keyboard (.,?*:=). Most of these have to be read sideways.
The word emoticon comes from the English blend of “emotion” and “icon,” and they were used to express human emotions. If you research a little, there’s a mention of the first emoticon used in 1979, but the first best-documented use of emoticons dates back to 1982. Scott E. Fahlman, an American computer scientist suggested the use of “:-)” to identify fun posts on a message board and “:-(” to point out serious posts.
The story seems to originate at Carnegie Mellon University (1982). A joke about a fake mercury spill was posted on an online message board. Instead of causing fun, it produced confusion and it did not go down well at the university. To avoid such uncomfortable situations, Scott E. Fahlman proposed to mark jokes “:-)” and serious comments “:-(“. Emoticons got very popular among Internet users. They were a fun challenge. Users had to create them using the limit of characters the keyboard offered and their creativity.
So, 3,664 emoji and still going strong! And now you know key details of their history and the identity of those behind this madness.
Emoji have deeply changed human communication through mobiles and the overall Internet. Besides saving words or writing faster messages, emoji have helped to overcome the limits that distance imposed. The verbal tone, facial gestures, and body language while texting or sending emails were lost, until emoticons and later emoji arrived to balance a bit of this lack.
Everything started with a set of 178 emoji. Now, there are more than three thousand. For emoji enthusiasts, this can mean we are moving to create a whole new international language of symbols that eliminates the borders of the common languages. Others point out that emoji are weakening people’s ability to properly express themselves through verbal or written speech.
We can’t forget that no matter the efforts to make the use of emoji universal, cultural influences are strong. There’s room for confusion, misunderstandings, and conflict. Sometimes, no matter the official or literal meaning, users attribute unofficial uses to emoji. There are plenty of combinations too.
Do you think we’ve gone too far with them, or do you want to see more as quickly as possible?