Since the invention of typed communication, people have been making faces with punctuation, letters, and numbers. Even back when telegrams were around, people were still finding ways to make faces with what characters they had available to them.
Since then, they’ve entered our vocabulary as a normal part of everyday life. It’s pretty common to see emoticons in texts, emails, Facebook posts, and pretty much anything you can type into.
In the century since the birth of the emoticon, they’ve come a long way. I think a lot of credit is due to the Japanese, who have seemingly elevated the emoticon to an art form. While in the US we were patting ourselves on the back for giving the smiley face a nose, the Japanese were integrating characters different languages to create emoticon masterpieces.
In Japan, they’re called kaomoji (顔文字) and range from huge, happy faces (
*･゜ﾟ･*:.｡..｡.:*･'(*ﾟ▽ﾟ*)'･*:.｡. .｡.:*･゜ﾟ･*) to sad, despairing faces
( ；´Д｀) to a guy farting across the room (
It’s not just the elaborate, multilingual kaomoji that make the Japanese the undisputed champions of emoticons; they also seem to be able to do more with less. Sometimes, it’s the emoticons that are simple and leave a lot to the imagination that are the most impressive.
What Japan Thinks posted a survey a few months back about Japan’s more abstract emoticons, the ones that take a little bit of imagination to visualize. Here are the top five, see if you can see what they’re supposed to represent:
- ぬす (flying trapeze artist)
- 尖 (droopy-eyed couple kissing)
- チ゜フ (cat)
- むU (dog)
- でわ (a mouse looking over its shoulder)
In recent years though, emoticons have evolved into something else entirely.
After decades of fumbling around with existing characters, humanity has decided to cheat a bit and create characters that represent the faces and actions that we’ve been trying to recreate all these years with numbers, letters, and punctuation.
They’re called emoji, or 絵文字 in Japanese, “picture character.” Instead of figuring out which characters to combine together to make a smiley face, you can just actually write a smiley face (☺).
We’ve talked before about how you can write some special characters in Japanese like music notes (♩ ♫ ♪ ♬), arrows (→ ← ↑ ↓), and playing card symbols (♠ ♣ ♥ ♦), but proper emoji goes way beyond that.
Here are just some of the emoji out there:
Over the years, emoji have gone from an informal cell phone to an honest-to-God international standard. Emoji have been integrated into Unicode, and earlier this year, three of Japan’s biggest cell phone companies agreed to standardize their emoji.
It warms my heart to know that there are technology professionals working hard to make sure that when I send you two emoji representing a cat farting, it will show up perfectly on your phone.
How Do You Get Emoji?
If you’ve ever wanted to text your friend a little picture of a turd (yes you have), then you’ll be happy to hear that you too can join the emoji revolution. I’ve rounded up some instructions on how to enable emoji on your phone or computer.
Emoji are already built in to most iPhones. Open up the settings menu, go to General Settings, and add the emoji keyboard. Now whenever you’re typing, press the little globe button in the bottom left of the keyboard to cycle through international keyboards, including the emoji keyboard.
It’s a bit tougher for those of you on Android. It’s not actually officially supported on most Android phones at the moment, so your best bet is to scrounge the Google Play store to see what third-party apps can give you an emoji keyboard.
If you’re on a Mac, it’s all pretty much built in. Just press Command (⌘) + Option + T, which brings up the Keyboard and Character Viewer.
Emoji support is a little more spotty on Windows (especially older versions), but it looks like Microsoft is getting its shit together for Windows 8, and even backported it to Windows 7.
Of course, for pretty much every device and operating system, support is still kind of sketchy and new emoji are being added all the time, so don’t be too surprised if your phone or computer if missing your favorite face, animal, or sign. You can still rest easy that one day, maybe even soon, we’ll all be able to send emoji to each other, and maybe even avoid words altogether. 😃
Header image by Yahoo! Blog