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As soon as we saw the announcement of the latest upcoming 2021 Emoji 13.1 update, we temporarily abandoned all responsibilities and hastily clicked to see which facial expressions and heart variations we can look forward to sending to our friends in the near future. We can’t lie – we were excited. 

80% of adults in the UK now use emojis in their text messages. 40% even admit to having created a message composed entirely of emojis. And it’s got us thinking – how have emojis become so deep-rooted into our culture and why do we love and rely on them so much?

A brief history of emojis

Emojis originated in Japan in the nineties – but not as we know them. A technician and employee of a Japanese mobile company was working on their mobile internet platform when he realised that the Japanese symbols that they were sending were essentially just small 2-bit pictures. This triggered a brainwave – why not send actual pictures? He came up with 100 little pictures and started somewhat of a trend that pretty much every other company jumped on the back of. Thus, the emoji was born. And contrary to popular belief, they do not get their name from the word ‘emoticon’, which is used to describe 🙂 and 🙁 etc. The name is actually derived from the Japanese words ‘e’ for ‘picture’ and ‘moji’ for ‘character’.

The real rise of the emoji was in 2007 when Apple released the iPhone in Japan. Much to the dismay of the Japanese consumer, the iPhone did not have an emoji keyboard. Eventually, Apple gave in to public demand and rolled out this feature on all handsets globally, and soon enough, we were all obsessed with these expressive little pictures. The rest is, as they say, history.

Emoji controversy

Over the years, along with bringing joy to our Whatsapp conversations, emojis have had their fair share of controversy. How harmless can a little face or a picture of a vegetable be? Quite, apparently. There have been accusations of implicit racism, sexism, and homophobia, which have since led to many changes in the emoji world. 

A few of the most controversial emojis are:

 

  • The eggplant

 

This probably won’t surprise many people, as the eggplant – or aubergine in the UK – emoji has managed to make a bit of a name for itself. The reason being is that it is commonly used to replace a certain… body part. I don’t think we need to explain. This innocent vegetable emoji has even gotten itself banned on Facebook and Instagram when being used in a ‘sexual’ context, along with the peach.

 

  • The bagel

 

Apple’s bagel emoji was forced to undergo a slight makeover because of its depressing lack of fillings. Actual people made actual complaints. Cream cheese brand Philadelphia even got in on the action, putting out a petition to get a spread of cream cheese added to the underwhelming bagel. Despite not actually reaching their goal number of 30,000 signatures, the new version of the emoji is looking much tastier, now featuring a cream cheese filling.

 

  • The Chinese takeout box

 

Very much sticking to the theme of food, when the Chinese food takeout box made its appearance, it upset a few people who pointed out that the chopsticks sticking out of the top of the box represented death. Many complained that the way they were placed looked more like incense sticks used in Chinese culture to honour the dead. Plus, they argued that leaving chopsticks sticking out of food in such a way was completely disrespectful. The issue has since been rectified, with the Chinese food takeout box losing its chopsticks, and chopsticks featuring alone as a whole separate emoji.

 

  • The water pistol

 

The water pistol started life as an actual pistol emoji. Apple replaced it with a water pistol in response to several gun attacks in the US. However, switching to a water pistol only created a new problem. Individual technology companies are responsible for determining how each standardised emoji will look on their devices. That’s why an emoji might look different on different phones e.g on an iPhone, to an Android. The issue arises when an Apple user sends a water pistol emoji to an Android user, for example. The Android user on the receiving end will see the real pistol emoji, so the message can be misinterpreted. 

So, why do we love emojis so much?

Well, simply put, emojis have opened up a whole new language for us. After all, language comes in many forms and one of these forms is visual symbols – ancient cave drawings, anyone? We love emojis that much, that the 2015 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was the cry-laughing emoji. According to Professor Viv Evans, this emoji ‘communicates complex emotion, which can be described with several words’. Very profound.

But that’s exactly why emojis have become the perfect accompaniment – or even replacement – for our words. You know what they say – ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Our online communication has become increasingly shorter due to the increased use of emojis and our internet slang is evolving as a result. Why say ‘lol’ when you could just use a laughing emoji? The University of Valencia studied the ‘thumbs up’ emoji and found that when used alone, it serves many conversational purposes; acceptance, liking, informality, or a close in discussion.

Many may argue that we’re perhaps becoming too reliant on emojis, and we’re losing our literacy – but we disagree. Emojis simply allow us to add more context, colour, and creativity to our words. With every unicorn, poop, and handbag emoji, expressing ourselves better than ever. 

How often has someone misinterpreted something you’ve said over text, Whatsapp, or social media? When communicating, so much of what we actually mean comes from our gestures, facial expressions, intonation, and speech rhythm. You just can’t convey that when writing words, but emojis allow you to convey your thoughts and feelings much more when the physical cues are lacking. This is all the more important in the current pandemic situation, where we’re communicating virtually more than ever. 

For example, how would you respond to each of these messages?

Bye…

Bye… 😀

I think it’s safe to say that the second message comes across a lot friendlier and relaxed, as opposed to the first message that seems frustrated and impatient. What a difference a smiley can make!

 

217 new emojis are on their way to us in 2021, and we can look forward to a ‘head in the clouds’, ‘heart on fire’, and ‘woman with a beard’ emoji, amongst many new mixed skin tone options for couple emojis.