Monday, May 29News For London

Explainer: Emojis, a brief history and why they are important.

Photo Credit | Tyler Hewitt | Flickr.

A brief history –  1977 – 2023

The 17th of July is the unofficial ‘World emoji day’ – mark your calendars guys!. This is a day of acknowledgement invented by one Jeremy Burge. To get a picture of just how relevant and inclusive a celebration it is – check out the Unicode emoji set, for the most complete selection of human activity, hand gestures and facial expressions, of which an estimated 92% of the world population use in their day-to-day digital and online interaction. About 5 billion emojis are used every day on Facebook and Messenger alone.

The term Emoji”, is a Japanese invention, a word that translates to “picture or pictograph”. It entered the social scene back in 1997 when a Japanese Tech-investment company, SoftBank, created the first known emoji set. The earliest set featured a total of  90 distinct emoji characters

Fast forward to today, and there are over 3000 distinct emoji characters globally. This statistic is according to a 2021 article from Unicode. Unicode is the non-profit, International body responsible for receiving and considering proposals from the public for new emojis.

More than 20 years later since their unveiling in 1997 – emojis have become an important feature of the internet, part of our digital vernacular, and an unmissable item on social media.

In the year of the pandemic – when face-to-face human interaction was at its least, Unicode added 64 new varieties of emoticons –  available on Apple iphones around the world. Among these additions were:  A pair of human lungs. Two people hugging. A smiling face with a teardrop – and A dodo bird. 

Why is it important?

Recently, this mode of communicating has spread into uncharted territory. A 2019 survey which took 1000 US respondents, between the ages of 16 to 72, showed 61% of people used emojis to communicate in their workspace – compared to the other 39%  who chose not to. The survey showed that using emojis in the workspace increased the likability of the person communicating, which made for an easier work relationship.  

Credit | Statista | Sarah Feldman

Furthermore, In 2022, in a most bizarre case, the “poop emoji” would show up in a US court room. During the litigation brought by former Twitter executives, against Elon Musk, it was used as evidence of his trolling and refusal to go ahead with the Twitter purchase. More recently, In March of 2023 –  the poop emoji was a hot topic again – as Twitter CEO Elon Musk began sending them as auto-replies to any and all reporter inquiries directed at

Over time the emoji is slowly making its way from an ordinary text message feature and an item for digital banter – to a useful device – for forming closer partnerships in the workplace, and as a useful piece of admissible evidence in court. It’s more important, now than ever to get educated on their sometimes tacit meaning.

In 2022,  Surrey police released a news article titled: Are you Emoji Aware? This was directed at teachers, parents and those who work with children, to educate themselves on the “secret world of emojis and their more concerning meanings” – In other words, emojis that seem at face value to have a simple enough expression, sometimes have a double meaning, understood only by certain sections of the internet.

Emojis and their double Meaning.

Today there are many instances, of emoji misuse, of emoji faux pas – If we can call them that.

There are segments of the internet dedicated to well-meaning parents using the wrong emojis in the right context, or using the right emojis in the wrong context – It gets very confusing

I myself have only just found out that the 24 different heart emojis in all their colours [White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple, Blue & Black..] each represents a different type of affection towards the receiver – from the more romantic Red-heart – to the Black-heart used to represent unrequited love.

Here are 8 popular emojis and their contested meaning – Some of them you may have used once or twice.

Upside-Down Smiley Face

Even avid texters fall victim to this one – sometimes used to represent something happy or silly. It is originally meant to communicate sarcasm that’s difficult to translate into text. It also represents irony – to say you’re smiling, but not really.

Steam From Nose

Although it does the expression of anger – the original expression is an ’emoji face with a look of  Triumph‘. It can be used to express pride or a feeling of absolute empowerment.

Flexing Bicep

Popularly used in text messages to mean strength or to show a person working out. However, its lesser-known meaning shows a person with a rolled-up sleeve – about to be administered a Vaccine shot.

Purple Heart

The purple heart shows admiration and compassion for a friend. However, in more recent times it has been co-opted by the K-pop fandom of social media. A sect of  BTS and Korean boyband enthusiasts use it as a way to show allyship online. 


Often confused with the ‘Skull and the Crossbones’ emoji – this Skull represents death, but of the figurative kind. The kind of  “death” that happens from Serious belly-aching laughter, or from mind-numbing anxiety or frustration. Depending on the context, the sender wants you to know they can’t bare it anymore.

Raised Hand

This is sometimes mistaken for the  ‘Hand with Fingers Splayed emojis” to indicate a wave of goodbye or hello. Instead, the Raised hand is an indication for the receiver to stop. It could also represent a high-five. 


British aubergine – to the uninitiated, this is nothing but an innocent fruit from the same botanical family as the Berry. However, due to its phallic shape and the internet’s fondness for memes, it has become the defacto emoji for the male reproductive organ.


It’s a Goat. Meaning “greatest of all time” = G.O.A.T.  – – Depending on the context, it could be an insult or more than likely the sender just paid you the greatest compliment the internet can offer.