Skip to content

Five things you might not know about emojis

So, I’ve been looking into emojis a bit lately. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt that you might also find interesting.

1. The ‘emo’ bit doesn’t mean emotion

Despite how it looks, there’s apparently no connection between the words ‘emoji’ and ‘emotion’, according to Oxford Living Dictionaries. Actually the word ‘emoji’ comes from two Japanese words: ‘e’, meaning ‘picture’ and ‘moji’, meaning ‘character’ (in the sense of a written Japanese character) (Evans 2017, pp. 18-19; Oxford Living Dictionaries).

On the other hand, ‘emoticon’ is related to the word ‘emotion’, being a combination of the words ‘emotion’ and ‘icon’ (Oxford Living Dictionaries). That being said, ‘emoji’ and ‘emoticon’ should not be used interchangeably because, as I discovered, there’s a key difference (read on to find out).

2. Emojis and emoticons are not the same thing

Can you tell your emojis from your emoticons? Although they both involve smiley faces, they’re not the same thing. Emojis are those cute little pictures of faces and objects that you can add to your electronic communication. Strictly speaking they are better classified as glyphs (Evans 2017, p. 12).

Image comparing emoticons and emojis

Old emoticons by J.M. (CC BY-SA 2.0) No changes to image.

 

Emoticons are the emotive faces built out of punctuation marks (Oxford Living Dictionaries), or as they are described in Media & Society, ‘graphic representations of emotions, used in communication that is not face to face’ (O’Shaughnessy, Stadler and Casey 2017, p. 124). Although they are different, I have noticed in my own digital media use that some platforms will automatically convert : ) into a smiley face emoji. Conversely, when I write full words in a text message, my phone suggests an emoji to use instead.

3. You can now enjoy classic novels in emoji

What do Alice In Wonderland and Moby Dick have in common? They’re available in emoji. Yes, you read right. Lewis Carroll’s classic novel is now available as an emoji-filled poster titled Wonderland, by Joe Hale. Herman Melville’s tale has been re-told in emoji under the title Emoji Dick, edited and complied by Fred Benenson. I have seen excerpts of both texts, and they both pushed my ability to interpret emojis to the limits. I don’t think I would have followed them at all if I didn’t already know the stories. For this reason, I agree with Evans when he says that Wonderland demonstrates why ‘Emoji just doesn’t function in the same way as a language’ (2017, p. 17).

There are also mixed views on whether it is appropriate to translate or re-tell such books in emojis. Reflecting on Emoji Dick, Danesi acknowledges both sides of the argument, noting that traditionalists may see such an interpretation as irreverent, but that conversely, it may bring the text to new audiences (2017, p. 146). Perhaps it is too early to tell. It does, however, bring to mind the broader question of how and when it is appropriate to use emojis (but that is for another post).

4. Emojis could be using up extra characters

When you’ve only got limited characters, every letter counts. Think about the need to be concise in early SMS communications. People created abbreviations and acronyms, left out vowels and punctuation, and replaced sounds with numbers (O’Shaughnessy, Stadler and Casey 2017, p. 124). The question ‘are you going to be late?’ became ‘R U going 2 B L8’. A similar brevity is sometimes required on social media. But could emojis be secretly chewing through your character count?

While we might be selecting one little picture, behind the scenes, many emojis are in fact composite characters (Evans 2017, p. 90). Using the example of a female singer, Evans explains that this is actually the single emojis of a female and a microphone, then add a skin tone modifier and this counts as three characters (2017, p. 90). Curious, I thought I’d test this out. Sure enough, the emojis I tried did count as more than one character!

5. What I send might not be what you see

Earlier this year I discovered that any given emoji doesn’t necessarily look the same on another platform. Because each platform is responsible for designing and implementing its own version of approved emojis, there is no standardised image for each emoji across all platforms (Evans 2017, pp. 63, 208). I like the way Miller describes each variation as a distinctive ‘emoji font’ (2016). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this can lead to different interpretations of the same message, depending on the image that you see.

Miller and her colleagues studied how emojis are interpreted and the potential for miscommunication. They found that misunderstandings can occur when recipients interpret the same depiction of the emoji that the sender sent, and that the possibility of misunderstanding is increased when the sender and the recipient are using different platforms, resulting in different images being displayed for the same emoji (Miller et al. 2016). In some cases, this can be as significant as understanding an emoji as the opposite emotion of the intended one (Miller et al. 2016). You might like to download and read the study, or check out Miller’s article with emojis.

 

So how did you go? I hope you found something to spark your curiosity!

 

References:

Danesi, M 2017, The semiotics of emoji, Bloomsbury, London.

Evans, V 2017, The emoji code, 1st US edn, Picador, New York.

Miller, H 2016, Investigating the potential for miscommunication using emoji, GroupLens, retrieved 8 August 2018, <https://grouplens.org/blog/investigating-the-potential-for-miscommunication-using-emoji/>.

Miller, H, Thebault-Spieker, J, Chang, S, Johnson, I, Terveen L & Hecht, B 2016, “Blissfully happy” or “ready to fight”: varying interpretations of emoji, GroupLens Research, University of Minnesota, retrieved 8 August 2018, <https://grouplens.org/site-content/uploads/Emoji_Interpretation_Paper.pdf>.

O’Shaughnessy, M, Stadler, J & Casey, S 2017 (2016), Media & society, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Oxford Living Dictionaries 2015, Word of the year 2015, Oxford University Press, retrieved 8 August 2018, <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2015>.