Digital Lingua Franca: Do You Speak Emoticon?

March 13, 2018


A smiley face was the original emoji, an ideogram used in the digital world that originated in Japan in 1999. Shigetaka Kurita is credited with creating the first emoji, a gumdrop shaped smiley face. Although the word 'emoji' resembles the English word emotion, which is the origin of the word emoticon, the word emoji is strictly Japanese in origin and combines the symbolic words for picture "e" and character "moji". Kurita was part of a team working on an i-mode internet platform for Japanese mobile phone companies. Originally mobile companies like NTT DoCoMo, Au and Vodafone (now SoftBank Mobile) had proprietary variants and used emojis to distinguish their company's features and services. Today, emojis exist in various genres, including facial expressions, common objects, places and types of weather, and animals. 

Emoticons, which are representations of human facial expressions, were originally created using only letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Built from these keyboard characters, emoticons preceded the graphical emoji, which is an actual image with a facial expression. The word emoticon was derived by combining the words emotion and icon. Originally requested by Google and Apple, hundreds of emoji-like characters were encoded into the Unicode Standard (version 6.0) that was released in the fall of October 2010. Communication problems arose almost immediately as cultural and contextual meanings often varied from the sender to the receiver. However, due to their overwhelming popularity, the world marketplace pressured developers to add additional Unicode designs to meet the demands of different cultures.

Western emoticons are normally sent in text messages and are created with horizontal entries, such as :) for happy face or :'( for crying. By reversing the round bracket, you can create tears of joy :'). In the eastern world, emoticons are generally created with vertical entries, such as (>_<) for a troubled face or (=_=) for someone who is tired. If you are new to the world of texting, you can check out Wikipedia's List of Emoticons. After all, you really want to watch what you say and how you say it; and that's what emoticons are all about. With the abbreviated content and deplorable spelling of most text messages, a trailing emoticon can let the receiver know whether you're being deadly serious or having a good laugh about the matter. So, welcome to today's digital lingua franca for the mobile generation.

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