World Emoji Day!
Jul 17, 2021 12:07 PM IST

“A Pictures is Worth a Thousand Words” - Staying true to that, emojis have quintessentially replaced written words to a large extent. Emojis have become an indispensable addition to human communication and we are not complaining.

Celebrated on 17th July.

The Calendar Emoji of Apple, Google, and Samsung.(Screengrab)
The Calendar Emoji of Apple, Google, and Samsung.(Screengrab)

World Emoji Day has been celebrated every year on July 17th since 2014. Interestingly, it is not a randomly chosen date to celebrate our favourite smileys but holds some significance in the tech world. It was on this day that Apple iCal premiered in 2002 and had therefore been chosen as the date that is displayed on the calendar and notepad emoji.

Well, however, different platforms have tweaked this tiny detail to personalise this information and it often goes unnoticed. For example- While the calendar emojis of Apple, Google, Samsung, and now also Twitter show July 17th as the date on display, the Whatsapp calendar emoji points to February 24th as the date on the front page of the calendar which is a possible reference to its date of incorporation in 2009, whereas Facebook shows May 14 which is the birth date of its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

To tackle this issue of discretionary emoji creations, Unicode Consortium, an organization that seeks to standardize the creation, development, and introduction of new emojis was established. Minor changes can however occur when they are adopted by different user systems. While Emojis have existed since 1995, their use in the past few years has surprisingly escalated to sizeable numbers.

More than 90% of people online use emojis making them more popular than any other language in the world.

The progenitor of our modern emojis were emoticons made using punctuation marks. The ancestral smiley face “:-)” was first used by computer scientist Scott E. Fahlman for online bulletin boards. Following which an emoji set with 176 icons was designed by Shigetaka Kurita for a Japanese phone carrier- DOCOMO in 1997.

These are often considered as the precursor to the very lively and interactive emojis used today. In fact, the word ‘emoji’ traces its etymological roots to the Japanese words- 絵 (“e”, picture), 文 (“mo”, write) and 字 (“ji”, character).

The first emoji set created in Japan in 1997 by Shigetaka Kurita.(Twitter)
The first emoji set created in Japan in 1997 by Shigetaka Kurita.(Twitter)

“Emoticons” are a portmanteau for emotional icons that are created using letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, while emojis are pictographs of faces, objects, and symbols.

As modes of communication get increasingly digitised, shorter attention spans and faster living have led to an overwhelming reliance on visual mediums of interaction.

The dramatic growth in the popularity of emojis in recent years has been accompanied by a simultaneous demand for increased diversity and inclusivity in the range of available images worldwide. The use of emojis has become an integral part and parcel of our everyday lives and it is only deserving that it is representative of a larger society.

In a positive shift from the variety of emojis initially introduced that displayed a noticeable gender and racial bias, we now have a plethora of emojis to choose from that beautifully accommodate diversities to represent a full spectrum of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. The inclusion of cultural symbols like country flags, sari, rikshaw, tacos, or sushi enables its regionally diverse users to feel a sense of pride and attachment.

Moving a step even further, it is being attempted to gender neutralize the emojis that will also incorporate non-binary identities. Depiction of single parents, homosexual and interracial couples, transgender icons, social taboos such as menstruation blood, man fairy are all an attempt to break away from the generations of stereotypes making the emoji keyboard one of the most liberal and inclusive platforms there is. It does not stop there. We hear that by 2022, our emoji library could grow to a massive 3,400 icons that will include a melting face, a pregnant man, corals, and an x-ray.

A graph showing the number of emojis released by year highlighting the most notable ones (1995-2020). The Emoji Collection is expected to grow to 3,400 by the year 2022.(
A graph showing the number of emojis released by year highlighting the most notable ones (1995-2020). The Emoji Collection is expected to grow to 3,400 by the year 2022.(

The popularity of emojis outside mere usage in millennial lingo can be testified by the recognition of the ‘laughing with tears’ emoji (😂) as the Oxford Word of the Year in 2015. Emojis have since their usage been questioned in court cases, landed people in jail, become a topic of controversy, and have obsessively been used by almost everyone to express their emotions.

In civil cases in the US, courts have interpreted the “thumbs up”, “fist bump”, “handshake” and “glasses” emojis as constituting an agreement or an intention to enter into a contractual agreement.

It is a universal language that transcends borders and also jumps the literacy barrier. Does this language with no grammar rules have the potential to be a unifying symbol across the globe? We are yet to see. It will perhaps not be incorrect to term the emoji language as the lingua franca of the digital world. Can we list fluency in emoji languages in our resumes yet?

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