Thursday 5 July 2018

Emojis and Emoticons

Image result for smiley faceThe etymology of emoji ought to be obvious. It's a little digital picture: hence e- like e-mail. And it expresses emotion: hence emo-. Except that that's not it at all.

First, the OED mentions that the word dates, in Japanese, back to at least 1928, when computer graphics were not up to much. That also means that it's got little to do with e-things or emo-things. E here means picture in Japanese and moji means character. So it's a pictograph, indeed emoji may have originally been a straight Japanese translation of the English word.

Emoji is therefore closely related to Kanji, which is the Japanese writing system that uses Chinese characters. Kan = Chinese and ji = letter. 

(So far as I can tell moji and ji are the same, but I don't speak a word of Japanese, I am simply relying on the clever people at the OED, who, I suspect, do.)

Emoticons, on the other hand, are emotion-icons and have been recorded since 1988. They are therefore utterly unrelated to emojis.

Image result for Choju Jinbutsu Giga
And this is from a Japanese picture scroll, or e-makimono, or emaki.


  1. Regarding "ji" and "moji": "mo", roughly, means "writing", and "ji" means character in the more general sense, so "moji" is more specifically a character for writing, aka a letter, while there is also "suuji", meaning "math character", aka a number.

  2. A version of a smiley face.” And on the BBC, under the headline “Emoticons in texts can rack up huge bills” is a news story which exclusively discusses emoji. An emoticon is a typographic display of a facial representation, used to convey emotion in a text only medium.
    I think this is the most symbols that most of the peoples used for while chatting. Nice to write post regarding Emojis and i don't know how to write more about this.
    Tally ERP 9

  3. I'm disappointed you didn't bring up Henohenomoheji, which is an example of mojie (the reverse of emoji) for this article.

    Emoji is written as “Picture Characters” or “Picture Letters”. And in Japanese, can describe a whole plethora of neolithic proto-writing of various cultures, in addition to the digital iconography that came about with the advent of pagers.

    So, in a certain sense, emoji conveys what a layperson might describe as a “hieroglyph” or an “icon”. But I don’t really see emoji correlated with kanji that often. (Though it is true that the “ji” that links the two is the same.)

    Linguists often divide kanji into four main categories: Shoukei, Shiji, Kaii, and Keisei. (Pictographic, Indicitive, Associative Compound, and Pictophonetic.) Pictophonetic characters of which make up over 90% of written Chinese character usage.

    Shoukei-moji, or the pictograms, only make up a small fraction of modern writing. Moreover, these pictures were already undergoing a heavy abstraction and stylization as early as the Bronze Era in a form of writing known as Seal Script.

    Richard Sears' website does a good job of documenting Chinese etymology and individual character’s evolution. When doing such research, I also like to compare them with YellowBridge’s etymological descriptions.

    Take the mo(文) in moji(文字) for example.

    YellowBridge proposes it to be a picture of a man with a tattoo on his chest.

    Richard Sears’ says that it is a man in clothing with a heart

    Whether it is a heart, or a tattoo, seems to be a matter of debate. But what is agreed on is the fact that it represented culture. (And later, literature.)

    On the other hand, ji(字) is a picture of a child under a roof.

    According to Richard Sears’ website, the picture does not reflect its modern meaning (letter/character), but was borrowed for its pronunciation. And when you understand the logic of Chinese writing, the majority of which are pictophonetic, this is a reasonable explanation.

    There are all sorts of wonderful evolutionary twists in Chinese and Japanese etymology that I can go on and on forever about. Like how the shou(象) in shoukei-moji(象形文字) is actually a picture of an elephant.

    And when you play Xiangqi (Chinese Chess, or Elephant Chess) you may get to play with elephant pieces, but your opponent is playing with the “mutual” pieces, or what we call “minister” pieces in English. Mutual being a homonym for elephant in Chinese.

    Imagine playing a game of chess, but instead of a horse piece (knight), you had knights, and nights. That’s what playing Xiangqi is like. Haha.