I (Angry Face) Emojis

I woke up this morning thinking about emojis, which is very disturbing because I hate emojis.

I was thinking about them because several members of my beloved family were taunting me – yes, taunting, and worse, in a pitying way – during an exchange of cellphone texts which I confessed I could not understand. Emojis were involved.

“Poor father, he’s so old and out of it,” was the general tone.

I was so disturbed that I had to go out and chainsaw down a tree to regain my normal sunny disposition. Then I got online to do a little research into emojis, to see whether I am justified in loathing them. (I wonder if there is an emoji yet for “loathe.”)

It is far worse than I feared.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, emojis are pictographs designed to convey in shorthand fashion the emotive state of the writer, if one may use the word “writer” to describe a person who communicates in pictures.

EMOJIS BEGAN innocently enough (Hitler was a cute little tyke, I’m sure) with clever typographical combinations such as 😉 to suggest a sidewise wink and smile. These were called “emoticons.”

Then in 1999, in a dark omen for the coming millennium, a Japanese artist – whose name I shall purposely omit – crafted 176 picture icons “to convey information in a simple, succinct way,” for example, a cloud icon to inform the deaf and illiterate that it is going to be overcast tomorrow.

Those original 176 emoji are now in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which tells you all you need to know about modern art.

A team at Google (surprised?) began to agitate to have emoji recognized by the Unicode Consortium, a shadowy nonprofit group which has somehow seized worldwide authority to maintain text standards across computers. It bestowed its blessing on emojis in 2010.

Thus from the beginning, emojis (do I need to pluralize it or not?) became a pictograph language, not limited to showing emotions. Traditionally there are only seven emotions, though one study came up with 27. I personally have only five.

Artists created simple 12-by-12-pixel images of trains and squirrels and broccoli and your Aunt Vera so that people could converse via text message entirely in emojis, without having to resort to cumbersome words and sentences.

The Emoji Lexicon was celebrated as a new visual language understood by all human beings, a lingua francafor the digital age. (I wonder how the backers of the invented language Esperanto feel about that.)

But soon there were troubles in Happy Emoji Land. The “woke” crowd (maybe I’d like them better if they described themselves as “awakened” . . . nah) found too many images were of white people, too many of men. Why were there no gender-neutral emojis, no emojis of female surfers, traditional African foods, people with diabetes, the Palestinian flag, endangered species and so on?

Now you can see why it’s necessary for the Emoji Subcommittee of the Unicode Consortium to meet twice weekly “to discuss and decide on emoji-related matters.” The Allied planners of D-Day didn’t meet that often.

BY 2020 THERE WERE 3,178 official emojis in the Unicode Standard, but that is expected to rise to 3,353 in 2021. A bearded woman is among the new ones slated for recognition this year, though what she represents I do not know. Men, I suggest you do not text a bearded woman emoji to anyone of the gender we used to call female. But you youngsters might want to remember it because someday when there are emoji bees instead of spelling bees the bearded woman likely will be asked in the final rounds.

Some years ago I noted in this column that pictures were replacing words on car instrumentation, and satirically suggested that someday we would all have to learn a new version of hieroglyphics. The Egyptians developed hieroglyphs over a period of 4,000 years, yet had only 700. Still, that’s a lot of picture-words to commit to memory, and the elite Egyptians who used them would be understandably leery of adding more when that increased the chances of chiseling a grammatical error into Pharoah’s obelisk.

As a person whose life profession has been the written word, I am unavoidably prejudiced in favor of the English language. According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are 171,146 words in our language, not including 47,156 obsolete ones. The King’s English is the de facto world language, the language of diplomacy, commerce and entertainment, not to mention Shakespeare, the language that people in every foreign land yearn to write correctly and speak fluently. . .while here in America, young people who can’t communicate in coherent English are laboring to craft a sentence in emojis.

The only emoji sentence I would enjoy writing is “I hate emojis,” but I don’t think I can. Is there an emoji that means “emoji?”

(Fred Miller’s new book of 100 stories, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” is $10, available locally at Connie’s Kitchen, Davis Bros. Pharmacies, Frank’s Pastry, Giant Eagle Calcutta, Green Marble Coffee, Museum of Ceramics, Pottery City Antique Mall, and at fredmilleratlarge.com.)


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