On the canvas of endearing expressions

The SMS perhaps started it all. With each word being charged, hapless phone users had to snip and chop words until they bore no resemblance to what it was

author_img Jitha Karthikeyan Published :  25th November 2022 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  25th November 2022 12:00 AM

Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)

All ye Shakespeare lovers, ’tis time to discard that vocabulary heavyweight, the dictionary. Language is no more. The end wasn’t sudden, but rather a slow death, much like those patience testing films that progress at snail’s pace. What a shame indeed after all those poetry classes and grammar impositions in school!


The SMS perhaps started it all. With each word being charged, hapless phone users had to snip and chop words until they bore no resemblance to what it was. ‘Tomorrow’ was ‘tmrw’ and ‘dat’ was ‘that’! For grammar sticklers, it was pure living hell to watch this massacre, until mercifully, the emoji came to the rescue. The yellow faces thankfully replaced horrid spellings and even added some colour and emotions to boring texts.


Emojis are certainly not a new-age concept, triggered by the technology boom. They have existed since centuries as varied forms of human expression. The ancient Egyptians recorded their stories and history using hieroglyphics, which is a system of writing using pictures instead of words. Graphic illustrations using keyboard characters called ‘emoticons’, even appeared in the 1800s when typewriters were in vogue. 


It was however, in the late 1990’s that emojis made its debut appearance in Japan. Like the Neanderthals in human evolution, these emojis were very primitive, like the :) for a smile and the :( for a frown. 

It was in 1999 that NTT DOCOMO—a Japanese cell phone company—came up with 176 emojis for mobile phones. The word ‘emoji’, by the way, is also Japanese and is taken from the Japanese words ‘e’ (picture) and ‘moji’ (character). These humble pixelated designs by Shigetaka Kurita, the Japanese interface designer, became an instant success and radically changed the way people communicated through mobile phones. However, it remained largely confined to Japanese users until 2010. 


Though Google had introduced emojis in its Gmail way back in 2008, it was only in 2011 that the emoji explosion happened, when Apple added it to its iOS messaging app. Emojis may have influenced our lives tremendously, but by no means can they be called art, you may think. Interestingly, a few years ago, one of the most prestigious art museums in the world, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, added the world’s first 176 emojis to its permanent collection. Today, the angry face and the smiley rub shoulders with Picasso and Van Gogh on those museum walls! 


Design innovations alter our world in so many ways. The 176 early emojis were the first pictographs to make their way into mobile communication. The smiling yellow face that pops up on our phones and soothes our nerves was once a rudimentary line drawing in black and white. Though they have taken on a whole new life ever since, this museum display of where it all began makes us see these symbols, which are an intrinsic part of our present-day lexicon, in a new light. In a world where multitasking reigns and the time we have to communicate is drastically shrinking, let us seek refuge in the warmth of these endearing expressions of human emotions.