I love the written word. Here’s why I also <3πŸ’œπŸ’™πŸ’• emoji β˜Ί

I’m a middle-aged woman who loves writing and who takes great pedantic joy in proofreading. I cringe badly when I see a misplaced apostrophe, or a your instead of you’re. But when I hear some of my fellow pedantic word lovers bemoan the great emjoi invasion and how these things are supposedly going to destroy our beloved written language, I’m all πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Let me tell you why. And I promise to go easy on you and do it in actual words :-)

Like I said, I’m middle-aged. To be more precise, I’m 55. Which means I didn’t grow up with all this technology we have now – in my teens, not only did emoji not exist, we didn’t even have mobile phones yet, or even PCs. I was a schoolchild when my big brother and sister started working in this newfangled thing called computer programming, which involved feeding special cards into a massive computer that needed a huge room – the fact that I can now have a computer in my jeans pocket and use it to play games, take photos, communicate instantly with people all over the world, and even make the odd phone call… that’s pretty brilliant from where I’m looking. But let’s rewind a bit…

Back in the 1990s, as a 30-something-year-old, I began to discover the joys of email and of communicating with people over the internet. I remember finding a web forum where a whole bunch of us happily nerded over etymology and language usage – this was social media way before social media became a thing. It was very basic, and no, no emoji – we were all limited by the standard qwerty keyboard, but human imagination came up with ways of enhancing our typed communication. Why did we feel the need? Isn’t the written word enough, as those who bemoan emoji tend to claim? Well, not when you’re having informal conversations, and you’re missing all the non-verbal cues that are part and parcel of ordinary human communication… Like nods and smiles and shrugs…

So people developed ways of adding this stuff – like putting a word or phrase between asterisks to indicate that it’s not part of the verbal content of what you’re saying. You might, for instance, add *smile* or *shrug* or *sigh* to indicate your mood. Or you might even add a bit to describe what you’re (not always really) doing, like *grabbing popcorn* or *closing the door so as not to wake neighbours with my loud guffaws* or *wiping coffee off keyboard* :)

And some people at some stage started to invent creative ways of using punctuation marks to make face shapes, so that instead of having to type *smile* you could just type :-)

I don’t remember any handwringing going on back then – I don’t remember anyone being scared that emoticons were killing the English language. But then in the 90s we didn’t have mass use of social media, so I probably wouldn’t have heard…

The world of tech has moved on since then, and every now and again it has brought yet another phenomenon that people find scary. There was, of course, the stage when language purists were worried about txt spk and how teens were going to lose the ability to spell words in full. Now we have smartphones, we don’t have to do all those abbreviations anymore, we just let predictive text mangle our messages :-) So now we have a new bogeyman – the dreaded emoji…

Which is really a next generation progression from emoticons, and just as emoticons were only an enhancement of written communication, so are emoji – no, we’re not using them instead of typed words, not most of the time anyway. Sure, once in a while someone might use a πŸ˜‚ emoji instead of saying: I laughed so hard I was in tears. But most of the time they’re an added extra, a fun decoration – at which point I’d like to remind you that they’re not even always about expressing feelings, or about actually saying anything that you could say in words. When, for instance, I post to say good morning on social media and I add a coffee cup emoji, or a sunshine emoji, I’m not actually saying anything – the verbal content of my post is expressed in words (e.g. “good morning”) and the emoji are there to add a bit of fun.

(That bit about them not always expressing feelings – here, have a look at just some of them:


Emoji, as opposed to emoticons, are pictorial representations of all kinds of things – the word is Japanese in origin, and comes from the words for “picture” + “character”. It’s basically a pictorial character, and can be a picture of a flower or a sheep or a guitar or whatever. Unlike “emoticon”, which is an English combination of “emotion” + “icon”, so yes, you could reasonably expect emoticons to express feelings, like :-) for a smile or :-( for a sad face. And yes, some people use these terms interchangeably and I’m not going to keep standing at that open barn door and yelling when the horse is far far away… But when I talk about emoticons I mean those old-fashioned ones made up from punctuation marks, and when I say emoji I mean the ready-made pictures you can get by just pressing a key on your phone’s keyboard.)

Anyway, all this to say: emoji are fun, they’re not going to kill the written language any more than text speak did, they’re just a way of enhancing our written communication in informal contexts and no, nobody really makes up whole sentences out of emoji, not unless they’re feeling seriously bored and have nothing better to do.

(And yes, I call them emoji in plural, but if you prefer emojis I won’t fight you over that. Just don’t try and prise them out of my hands, whatever you want to call them…) πŸ˜€

Questions? Thoughts? Talk to me - I don't bite :)

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