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Emoji — little symbols that conquered the world

By AFP - Dec 22,2016 - Last updated at Dec 22,2016

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TOKYO — Emoji have exploded from 176 original designs to around 1,800 and counting, as the little symbols conquer the world.

Here are a few things to know about hieroglyphics for the smartphone age.

Sweet emotion 

There’s something for everyone and every mood. Laugh, cry, shrug those shoulders, or give that forehead a good palm slap... digitally, of course. Rough day at the office? There’s a head massage emoji too.


There are now five different skin colour emoji, along with the traditional yellow. There’s a gay family emoji and a Mother Christmas. A hijab-wearing Muslim woman is in the works. Religious images included a mosque and rosary. But images of deities are out — they contravene rules set by Unicode, an international consortium that oversees the format.

Emoji vs. Emoticon

There are a lot more emoji — the name combines Japanese words for picture and character — than emoticons because they also show people, places and things along with feelings. Emoticons are alphanumeric characters that usually just express an emotion or mood, such as :-) to suggest a happy smile.

So happy I cried

The “face with tears of joy” emoji was chosen by Oxford Dictionary as the word of the year in 2015. It’s also the most-used emoji worldwide, according to the emojitracker website. The heart symbol is the second-most popular while a smiling pile of faeces is also a big hit.

Food fun

The French love croissant emoji, it’s all about rice dish paella for the Spanish, while the Aussies like to say it with booze. Shigetaka Kurita, who created the first emoji back in the late 90s, says he is still waiting for a grilled eel symbol — his favourite dish, and one loved by millions of Japanese.

Crazy Canucks

Canadians love the poo emoji, and ones about violence and money, according to a 2015 report by British tech firm SwiftKey. It found that while the French love the heart, Russians love all romantic emoji, and Arabic speakers go for plants and flowery stuff.

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