A post from Shady Characters

Emoji, part 2: what went before

This is the second in a series of thirteen posts on Emoji (😂). Start at PART 1, continue to PART 3 or view ALL POSTS in the series.

As we saw in part 1, emoji did not arise in a vacuum. In designing his suite of icons, Shigetaka Kurita selected subjects that would be both recognisable and useful in the context of NTT DOCOMO’s new mobile internet service. Smiling faces (😊) and broken hearts (💔) conveyed emotion; trains (🚆) and planes (✈️) called up ticket booking services; videogame controllers (🎮) denoted mobile games; and so on. But the way in which emoji were and are presented — embedded among our letters and words while simultaneously being distinct from them — has always been as important as their content. In this respect, emoji owe as much to ancient scrolls, medieval books and typewriters as they do to pagers and mobile phones.

6 comments on “Emoji, part 2: what went before

  1. Comment posted by Michael Hurley on

    I’m quite surprised you made no mention of the famous typographical face art published in an 1881 edition of “Puck” magazine. They were specifically designed to conveigh emotion through basic typographical characters and are considered by some to be the earliest true proto-emoticons yet known.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Michael,

      I left out the Puck emoticons for a couple of reasons — first, I’ve already written about them in the Shady Characters book, and second, as far as I know they were never used within the text itself.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Comment posted by Phillip Helbig on

    “Even Ing­mar Berg­man, the fam­ously mor­ose film dir­ector,”

    While some of his films are rather gloomy (but, at the same time, some of the best films ever made), privately he was a cheerful fellow. I remember seeing an interview with him around the time of his death, in which he laughed a lot.

    With 4 wives and 9 children (with only 1, Liv Ullmann’s daughter, from an unwed mother) he wasn’t all doom and gloom. His marriages and children are more complicated than described in this brief comment, and allegedly all were always on friendly terms with one another.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Phillip — thanks for the comment! I’ll defer to you on this one. For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave the post as is.

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