Personally, I feel sorry for the punctuation. It wasn’t born to grin :) or frown :( or wink ;) and yet these irksome little contortions, known as emoticons, have become inescapable.
The emoticon, thought to have originated in the late 70s, in an effort to denote tongue-in-cheek remark, is today a staple in the language of text messaging and online conversation.
Then there are their more animated cousins, emoji – the tiny cartoonish symbols, most versions of the yellow smiley-face, that spring up in certain programmes when you tap in the emoticon code.
“This set of glyphs [has] been littering text messages in Japan for well over a decade are now sweeping the western world,” writes Rhodri Marsden in the Independent. “Just as some of us embraced emoticons such as :-( and :-0 while others raged at our inability to express ourselves properly using words and punctuation, so we’re embracing emoji, too, from the angry face to the tomato to the hospital to the flexing bicep to the ghost, and indeed the balloon.”
Last month, as if to legitimise emoji as a form of expression, the US Library of Congress accepted a ‘translation’ into emoji of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. (Entitled, as you might expect, Emoji Dick.) Said translation is frivolous, pointless and silly – and so, to a certain extent, is emoji. But does it really have a reductive effect on the way we communicate? Or does it add a richness that conventional language simply can’t convey?
Facebook certainly reckons it adds something, and has enlisted a psychologist and a Pixar animator to design a suite of its own emoji.
In 1872, Charles Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, a book that catalogued emotional expressions in humans and their link to the animal world. In the book, Darwin described more than 50 universal emotions. Now Facebook, with the help of a psychologist who studies emotions and a Pixar illustrator, has turned some of the emotions Darwin described in the 19th century into a set of emoticons. The hope: to create emoticons that better capture the vast range of human emotion …
They started looking at how compassion research could help Facebook address the kind of interpersonal conflicts the company saw emerge in issue reporting. When people inserted a little more emotion into their messages asking friends to take down photos, Facebook found, the friend was more likely to respond or comply rather than just ignore the message.
Here’s a glossary of the things.
The final word to a couple of recent thoughts on emoticons from Twitter – a place awash with the things:
From @FillWerrell (a parody Will Ferrell account):
And from poet @PamAyres: