Emoji: Cartoonish icons used to communicate emotion in email and texting. From the Japanese; a blend of “e” (Japanese for “picture”) + “moji” (“letter”).
Some of the emoji icons available on Apple devices.
Think of emoji as the lazy person’s emoticons: no careful combinations of parentheses, semicolons, and carats; no tilting your head to puzzle them out. Or think of them as hieroglyphics for the global postliterate era.
In an article about emoji published last month in the New York Times, reporter Jenna Wortham provided some background:
Emoji have long been popular among cellphone users in Asia. They first emerged in Japan in the 1990s, said Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how young people use digital media in Japan and the United States. Cellphone carriers first added the images to differentiate their phones from those of rivals, and they caught on as an efficient way to quickly convey a specific thought, mood or joke.
Since so many of our daily interactions are happening over mobile phones, it makes sense that people would crave new ways to convey meaning other than plain text, said S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
“Text as a medium is particularly dull when it comes to expressing emotions,” Professor Sundar said. “Emoticons open the door a little, but emoji opens it even further. They play the role that nonverbal communication, like hand gestures, does in conversation but on a cellphone.”
Emoji are now standard on Apple devices running iOS 5. For the iPhone-deprived (or resistant), Gmail also offers an emoji keyboard in which some of the characters are animated. I’m still trying to figure out the context in which a pincer-wiggling lobster would express le mot juste.