Friday, March 4, 2016

Emoticons and Emoji: How Pictures Are Worth A Thousand Words

Love them or loathe them, emoticons are becoming more and more commonplace in language, and not just for casual conversations between friends on Facebook or WhatsApp. Due to the immense popularity of mobile phones, texting, the internet, and messaging as forms of communication, emoticons, and now emojis, are now almost universally used.

While some of the purists among us may believe that most languages are diverse and varied enough not to need them, emoticons and emojis are everywhere. One use that particularly struck me was when I saw that the BBC had started using them more frequently in their posts on Facebook.

Today I'd like to talk about why emoticons and emoji are so useful in language, and the role they play in communication.

Texts and messages are short and instant forms of communication. Originally, all text messages were written using a traditional phone keypad instead of the keyboard featured on modern smartphones. Since you had to type letters by pressing a number key multiple times, texting could take quite a while.

When it comes to language, if there's a way to make something easier, we tend to do it. Not only were we trying to save time, but we were also trying to save money. The last thing you'd want to do is have your text (which had a limited number of characters) become two texts, costing you double.

SMS language was created as people tried to use fewer characters without any loss in meaning, which is how letters and numbers like "b", "c", "r", "u", "y", "2", and "4", began to be used to refer to the words "be", "see", "are", "you", "why", "to", and "for", respectively.

The Oxford Dictionary's "Word of the Year" in 2015.
The tone of texts can also be very ambiguous, so you can see how punctuation resembling a face could help set the mood of a message without having to write several long texts, which would take more time and money.

From characters looking like faces, we got emoji, a Japanese term that combines e, meaning "picture", and moji, meaning "character". Once emojis were included on Apple's iPhone, their popularity snowballed. Soon after, they were added to Android phones, and have now become a massive cultural phenomenon.

In fact, the Oxford Dictionary made an emoji their word of the year. The "Face with Tears of Joy" got the award in 2015, and is the most popular emoji.

What do you think of emoji and emoticons? Are they useful for communication? Or are they abominations on our once-beautiful languages? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.