The History of Emojis ?

Emojis. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they have certainly changed the way we communicate with one another (which is no small feat). But do you know the history of these little images that often say just as much (if not more) than messaging with just words alone? Test your emoji knowledge below:

1. Where did “emoji” get its name?

Emoji is a Japanese word and Japan is also the country of origin for emoji development. The word itself combines the script “絵” or “e,” which means “picture” and “moji,” or “文字,” the script for “character.” Emoji therefore means picture character.

2. Why were emojis created in the first place?

Reader’s Digest claims that emojis were birthed from emoticons, or “facial expressions made with punctuation marks.” Of course, we are familiar with the colon, right- parenthesis or colon, hyphen, right-parenthesis combination for a smiley face, 🙂 and 🙂 respectively. Would you believe that this combination first appeared in 1881 in Puck magazine? These reactionary punctuation combinations started trending as time went on, especially with computer and typography development in early modernism.

3. What was the first emoji?

Trick question: there was not one single emoji, but rather a board of them. Emojis were first crafted by Shigetaka Kurita in 1998. According to The Guardian, the inspiration for them came from Pocket Bells, which was a pager that included a heart-shaped digital image that could be sent along with alphabetic text messages, too. The newer models of Pocket Bells got rid of the heart feature, which caused a fuss among Pocket Bell users.  In The Guardian, Kurita says, “As for the emoji themselves, I drew inspiration from marks used in weather forecasts and from kanji characters. At first, there were about 200 emoji, for things like the weather, food and drink, and moods and feelings. I designed the ‘heart’ symbol for love. Now there are well over 1,000 Unicode emoji.”

 Vice mock-up board for the first emoji designs
Vice mock-up board for the first emoji designs

4. Can you read emoji speech?

(Bonus points if you don’t look at the translations beforehand)


Of course, because emojis have become sensationalized, other companies have been created or benefited from these character pictures., for example, is an “emoji translator” website. Just like Google Translate, you can copy and paste an emoji sentence into their engine and they will produce a logical interpretation. They also have a random emoji sentence generator, which will produce a series of emojis aligned with an interpretation, like this: “????⛰=The fax machine is alarmed about the snow-capped arrow globally”

5. What’s next?

Most recently in the emoji world, Google gave their “blobs” a makeover. According to Wired, the Google designed emojis were called “Ponyon” which means “sound of something bouncing.” They differed from the iOS emojis in design by being less rounded and a little more abstract. Other issues with the original android emojis were the lost-in-translation between iPhone users and Android users. For example, Wired sites how a yellow heart on an iPhone looked like a hairy, pink heart on an android.

Another interesting aspect of emoji culture is race. In 2015, a line of different skin tone emojis made their debut. While some praised the inclusion of “diverse” faces, others thought that the skin tone choices were limiting. The Washington Post claimed in a 2015 article, “Apple’s intent was good. But the execution was completely flawed. Apple took the easy way out. Instead of creating actual emojis of color, Apple simply allows its users to make white emoji a different color.”

The future of the emoji is unknown, but it will surely continue to evolve in order to help us continue communicating with picture characters along with words.

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