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Everything You Want to Know about Emojis

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 5.00.59 PMMany text messages I receive include emojis and almost every time they make me smile. Did the inventor of those digital images or icons create them just for amusement? Why are those pictures called emojis? Can anyone create one?

According to the online Oxford dictionary, emoji, is a Japanese word and ‘e’ refers to picture and ‘moji’ means letter or character. In the late 1990’s, Shigetaka Kurita who worked for a large Japanese mobile communication company invented emojis because he wanted a way to messages and pictures using limited data. Much like my generation used shorthand, emojis were created as a way to send messages in an abbreviated format. Kurita’s idea was simple; one character or image communicated what required several words and more data on electronic devices.

Emojis quickly became a widespread success in Japan. In just one month, Kurita came up with the world’s first 180 images. He first looked at people’s expressions and created faces, including several smiley faces, and he expanded faces, such as adding a drop of water to symbolize nervousness and a light bulb over a head to show ‘flash of an idea.’

Kurita also turned to pictograms, designs displayed to give the public information. He’d served as chair of a committee to make signs for the 1964 Olympics, and those pictograms created for Olympic sports at that time are still used. In addition, pictures indicated directions, restroom facilities, restaurants, emergency exits, and no smoking areas. Faces and pictograms comprised the original palette of emoji choices and have been widely used in Japan since 2000.

Soon iPhones, Androids, and major operating systems displayed emojis and the choices grew by leaps and bounds. Anyone can submit an idea to the Unicode Consortium, a group of volunteers, most from tech firms, who votes on proposed symbols. This non-profit group strives to standardize digital text that can be used with different computer software in hundreds of different languages.

Unicode has released 1,624 emojis, with many more options such as skin tone of a screaming woman. Original emjois are brought to life after thousand-word proposals and multiple voting sessions by the Unicode volunteers. About 200 new images were released last year.

Oxford dictionary’s word of the year for 2015 wasn’t a word. A picture – an emoji. Officially, it’s named Face with Tears of Joy. Laugh until you cry. A bright yellow smiling face with tears. The Oxford website states that it was chosen because it reflects the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of the year.

You either love or hate these digital images. I’m in the love camp. When Daughter sent a text with a picture of one of my Grands covered lines made by a green permanent marker, and Daughter’s only comments were a Wide-eyed Face and a Face with Tears of Joy, I knew Daughter restrained her anger and saw the humor her child’s mess. When I agree with the restaurant Husband suggests, a simple thumb up tells him I like his idea. A happy birthday message to Grands (on their parents’ phones) includes a birthday cake and sparklers.

Emojis aren’t going away and I’m glad. But if you disapprove or are skeptical of using these images, one will be released soon just for you: A Face with One Eyebrow Raised.

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Smiley Faces and Emojis

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 5.06.15 PM           A smiling face is happy. A frown is sad. Well, not always. In the world of emojis, there are dozens of faces and depending on the eyes, a water droplet, or a tongue, a smile can take on different meanings.

What’s an emoji? (ēˈmōjē)   If you’re asking, you probably don’t use a smart phone or online conversation. Or maybe you hate and ignore those little pictures people use in text messages. Or you’ve seen those little pictures and didn’t know they had a name. An emoji is simply a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in an electronic communication. Certainly not everyone who communicates by email and texting and social networking uses such icons.

Is the idea for emojis really new? A yellow circle face is one of the most poplar emojis and a double first cousin to a smiley face. And haven’t smiley faces been around forever? As a teacher, I drew a circle with a big curved smile and two dots for eyes beside A and B grades on many students’ papers. Sometimes, I’d circle the dotted eyes to draw glasses and add wisps of hair. And if I wished the grade had been higher, I drew a straight-line, curved down mouth for sadness.

According to Smithsonian.com, in 1963 Harvey Ball, an American graphic artist and ad man, was commissioned to create a graphic to raise morale among the employees of an insurance company. Ball was paid $45 for his work that took less than 10 minutes. The State Mutual Life Assurance Company made posters, buttons, and signs to encourage their employees to smile more. There’s no record if that worked, but the company recognized that the logo was a hit and produced millions of buttons. Neither Ball nor the insurance company attempted to copyright the design.

In the early 1970s in Philadelphia, two brothers who owned Hallmark card shops added the slogan “Have a Happy Day” to a smiley face and produced copyrighted novelty items. Within one year, over 50 million happy day smiley face buttons and other products had been sold.

Worldwide, smiling faces have been used by many businesses, even a French newspaper to highlight positive news. And thru the years, there have been trademark and copyright disagreements, ending in lawsuits and multi-million dollar settlements. One argument is that a circle with a simple curved one-line mouth is so basic that it can’t be credited to anyone. And it’s been claimed that the world’s first smiley face dates back to 2500 BC on a stone carving found in a French cave.

Many of us can probably find a smiley face button stuck in the back of a kitchen drawer or at the bottom of a sock drawer. Those bright yellow metal buttons that have one long stickpin to wear on lapels. Those buttons that we gave to each other to say ‘Have a good day!’ Buttons we wore to let the world know we were happy.

That simple face with a curved line smile and two dots for eyes was transformed into many variations and has appeared on posters and pillows and art. And when emojis came along, smiley faces learned to scream and whisper and cry and vent and wink and love and kiss and laugh.  And along side those round faces are thousands of other emojis.

So who created emojis? Why? I intend to research just a bit and I’ll let you know.