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Emoji culture

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2015 was a pictograph, officially called the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, announced that it had acquired the original set of 176 emoji for its permanent collection and will be displayed in the museum’s lobby starting this month.

Originally meaning pictograph, the word emoji , is a loanword from Japanese, and comes from Japanese e “picture” + moji ‘letter or character’. The similarity to the English word emoticon (emotion + icon) has helped its memorability and rise in use, though the resemblance is actually entirely coincidental.

Nowadays everybody knows what an emoji is and it is used every day. But not so long ago, emoji were an exclusive thing for Japanese mobile phones. That’s the reason why there are so many references to Japanese culture in emoji.

The direct ancestors of the emoji as we know it today debuted in Japan in 1999 designed by Shigetaka Kurita for the Japanese company NCC DoCoMo for their pager users. He got inspiration from weather forecast symbols, manga emoticons, Chinese characters to street signs, and came up with emoji each made within a grid that is just 12 x 12 pixels.

First rendered in black and white, within a few years each emoji was painted one of six colors – black, red, orange, lilac, grass green and royal blue. The little faces and hearts were quickly repurposed by young Japanese women, who found them irresistibly kawaii (means cute) and began peppering their text messages with them, and before long emoji were booming in Japan.

Emoji were not really popular among English speakers in western countries until Apple started including them in their Apple iPhone. Apple worked in parallel with Google into Unicode, the universally accepted standard for text encoding on computers around the world, which made emoji widespread use outside of Japan. (Floro Mercene)