This year, Unicode announced that new emojis including a waffle, garlic clove, diya lamp, and an otter would soon be hitting smartphones. The library of emojis is constantly growing, and it’s to the point where you could have entire conversations without ever typing an actual word. Where did the concept of emojis first come from? And what were the original ones?
Experts generally agree that the very use of “emojis” occurred back in 1881. Puck, a humor magazine, used punctuation marks to represent four faces of emotion, including joy and indifference. They labeled the images as “Typographical Art.” Using punctuation marks to convey emotion became especially useful a century later, when people realized how difficult it was to get sarcasm and humor across in a electronic message board. Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist, suggested that in order to avoid misunderstandings, commenters should start labeling their jokes with a smiley face made from a colon, dash, and single parenthesis. 🙂
Other emoticons were developed as time went on, like adding a using a capital “D” instead of a parenthesis for an especially large grin, or using the reverse parenthesis for a sad face. It would still be a few years, however, before anyone tried using pictures.
The birth of the emoji
In 1999, Shigetaka Kurita was a 25-year old working for NTT DoCoMo, a telecon company. The mobile internet system had email, but each email could only be 250 characters, so Kurita went to work on images that could convey more meaning in a limited space. He also only had a 144-pixel resolution, which is why the original emoji look blocky. Even with these limitations, Kurita soldiered on, and created 176 pictures that he called “emojis.” The word is a combination of three Japanese words: “e” for picture, “mo” for write, and “ji,” for character. Kurita drew inspiration from pictograms and manga.
You can find the original set at the Museum of Modern Art In New York. There are only six colors. Kurita’s personal favorite is the heart.
The emoji expands
For more than a decade, emojis were pretty much limited to Japan. They were also not standard, which meant each company had its own unique emoji that couldn’t be translated across networks. In 2010, after encouragement from companies like Apple and Google, the Unicode Consortium established a standard. This non-profit is responsible for software standardization, which makes communication across different platforms and networks easier.
By 2012, emojis were finally becoming popular worldwide. Since those early days, the number of emojis exploded, so there are now almost 3,000. According to an emoji tracker website, the most popular emoji on Twitter is the “face with tears of joy.” This year, over 230 emojis (counting variations of existing ones) were added. They include:
- One-piece bathing suit
- Hindu temple
- Diya lamp
What do emojis mean for the future of communication?
You don’t have to look far to find articles asking if emojis are a new language and the future of communication. People imagine extreme scenarios where nobody actually writes to each other anymore, and just send emojis back and forth. In 2015, Domino’s even launched a new system where you could order a pizza just by sending them the emoji. Does this mean language is dead?
If anything, it just proves how fluid language is. All words are made up and every year, new ones get added to the dictionary. Emojis are just a part of a living and breathing system that actually transcends individual languages, because if someone only speaks French and you only speak English, you can use, say, a pizza emoji and question mark to communicate. Emojis connect the world, and at least for this writer, that’s a great thing.
Kurita’s favorite emoji is the heart, but that specific symbol has existed a long time. When did it first appear?