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Emoji (or emoticon)

1 August 2015
Yanina Dayan

An Emoji is a small digital picture or symbol that is meant to express an idea/convey a feeling via a graphic message in electronic communication channels.

 Some details and history

In 1995 the Emoji was created in Japan. At first they looked like little beepers that enabled Japanese teens that didn't have phones at home at the time to send messages and different illustrations of expressions to each other.

In 1999 Japanese cellular companies presented the Emoji for the first time as a set of 176 characters in a Japanese system titled IMORD.

In 2010 they reached the cellular devices (and since then they increasingly multiply).

In 2013 the word Emoji was added to the Oxford Dictionary.

In 2014 GLM (Global Language Monitor), an organization which analyzes the use of language on the web, chose the red heart  as "word of the year", even though it is not even a word.

According to a survey performed for the 15th time, Emoji are becoming part of the internet lingo, and this is the first time a symbol has passed words (or wordings) in a survey. The word that came second was the HASHTAG (#), which symbolizes a title discussion in social networks. In further evaluations that were collected in real time on Twitter, hearts in different versions won the first place and 14 places out of the first 100 places; the next (high) places belong to 'tears of joy' and 'un-amused face'.

In 2015, the results of a survey conducted by matchmaking website among 5,675 American single men and women showed that heavy use of Emoji shows of a sex life more active than those that hardly use them. Dr. Helen Fischer, an anthropologist that assisted in the research, told Time Magazine that when dealing with text messages, Emoji will usually be able to express emotion and tone better than words.

SwiftKey, inc. which creates cellular keyboard applications, analyzed more than a billion Emoji icons used by the speakers (or rather writers) of 16 languages around the world. The survey shows that Americans enjoy random Emojis such as skulls, birthday cakes and flames. They also use more in comparison to other countries, with Emoji identified with the LGBT community, e.g. the colorful rainbow and same sex couples, as well as more feminine Emoji characters. Furthermore, Americans like to use Emoji that are associated with meat, money, violence, profanity and sports. Interestingly, so do Canadians.

French speakers use hearts Emoji 4 times more than the average. They are also the only community in which the smiley icon is not the most used icon. Russian speakers use romantic icons, such as a kiss, a love letter, a kissing couple etc. "surprisingly", they use icons associated with snow and cold weather.

Brazilians express religious feelings more and use Emoji that symbolize religion twice more than the average user-hands praying, a church and a shining star. Australians use icons connected to alcohol twice more than others, and use Emoji related to drugs 65% more than the average and are world leaders in using Emoji connected to junk food and vacations. Arabic speakers use more subtle pictures, such as flowers, fruit, and scenery.

Is there a selector for Emoji?

The organization Unicode includes representatives from technological companies and they are those who decide if an Emoji is approved or not, following criticism stating that not everyone benefits equal representation in the field of small heads.

Can a small Emoji stir up a storm?

Evidently, yes. Emoji have become more than a technological matter, it has become a cultural, social, political and commercial matter. A news site survey stated that in Apple's new operation system, one of the optional Emoji icons is the Palestinian flag, which was perceived as taking a stand in a controversial matter. This is not the first time Emoji have caused controversy by Apple. In 2012, as part of apple's program update, Jerusalem wasn't presented as the capital of the state of Israel. This neglecting caused great turmoil that eventually, after much diplomatic pressure, caused Apple to reverse its decision.

Another example for this phenomenon is that Facebook has more than 100 Emoji that can be chosen in order to express an emotion. Instead of writing a status describing your emotion, you simply choose an Emoji suitable for your current mood. Out of 100 Emoji, there is one that drove people mad. I am referring to the "fat" Emoji, which is meant to describe the feeling "I'm fat". More than 15 thousand surfers signed a petition to remove this Emoji from Facebook and approached Facebook with this demand, claiming the icon to be harmful, as well as stating that Fat is not a feeling but a verb, and so this statement is mocking fat people and culturally judging one's body. Indeed, Facebook yielded to the public pressure and removed that Emoji, substituting it with an 'I'm stuffed' Smiley.

To conclude, Emoji have internationally become an integral part of the communication language. Songs and books have been written using them and many of us use them frequently in messages we send. Emoji can teach us of other interesting things about their user: political opinions, cultural differences between countries, cultural opinions, And much more.


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