Uncovering the global domination of those little smiley faces.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the Oxford Dictionary couldn’t agree more. This year, they named this emoji – 17474d3a52fd7efdada7b5896b5c5906 – the 2015 Word of the Year. Yes, that’s right, history was made when this pictograph, officially called Face with Tears of Joy, was crowned with the title. It was the most used emoji in the UK in 2015, making up 20% of all emoji used.

In recent years emoji have taken the world by storm. When did this tidal wave of yellow faces and common objects begin to swell, and how did it become a tsunami in modern culture?

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Emoji first popped up in the late 1990s. The father of emoji is Shigetaka Kurita, who took inspiration from the symbols used during weather forecasts. He was working on developing a competitive feature for mobile internet at the time, and thus came up with the 180 characters which would eventually spawn this cartoon communication takeover. The word “emoji” comes from Japanese e (çµµ) meaning “picture” and moji (文字) meaning “character,” roughly translating to the English word “pictograph”. The fact that it resembles the English word “emoticon” is just a coincidence.

Having started in Japan, there are notable cultural influences that appeared in the initial set of emoji, although with a recent expansion a more Western influence can be seen. Where bowls of ramen and sushi were part of the smartphone breakout that emoji set, an Apple update on October 21 2015 answered the Eastern trailblazers with 184 new emoji that included taco, turkey and hot dog. This expansion was accompanied by a notable increase in emoji use this year, with emoji popping up in some unexpected places, including in front-page headlines of USA Today. You can keep your finger on the pulse of the most popular emoji being used on Twitter at http://emojitracker.com/ which gives real-time updates of what emoji are currently appearring with the most frequency. (Note: site may not be not suitable for users with epilepsy).

SwiftKey recently did a study on emoji use by country and came to some interesting conclusions:

  • Canadians score highest in emoji categories some may consider to be more American (money, raunchy, violent, sports)
  • French people use four times as many heart emoji than other languages, and it’s the only language for which a “smiley” is not #1. Ah, the language of love.
  • Flowers and plants emoji are used at more than 4 times the average rate by Arabic speakers
  • Russian speakers use three times as many romantic emoji than the average
  • Australia‘s emoji use characterises it as the land of vice and indulgence, using double the average number of alcohol-themed emoji, 65% more drug emoji than average, and leads for both junk food and holiday emoji
  • Americans lead for a random assortment of emoji and categories, including skulls, birthday cake, fire, tech, LGBT, meat and female-oriented emoji

What conclusions can be drawn from this information is up to you to interpret, but if nothing else it signals that emoji have been embraced the world over and are quickly becoming the world’s universal language.

We previously wrote about Facebook’s plan for its own version of emoji, called Reactions. Not wanting to be left out of the emoji takeover, Facebook is currently testing their own animated pictographs in Ireland and Spain, with plans to launch globally in 2016. The symbols adopt the commonly recognised set of emoji, using round yellow faces, and give them a Facebook touch. The aim is to expand the ability to “like” content on Facebook into being able to “love,” “haha,” “yay,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.”

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Emoji are on a fast-moving train that shows no sign of stopping. As the ways in which we use emoji grow and change, there is no way of knowing how much more widespread their use will become. As stated above, they are quickly becoming our universal language, being recognised the world over due to their ability to communicate the same message to people across the globe.

How do we feel about this change in the mobile communication landscape? f5883514c68fca1e3a616d5a3bfa52fb

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