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Face It: We Love Our Emoji

Thomas on Flickr

Since the internet came around, people have experimented with different ways to express their emotions online. It’s hard to tell voice tone when you’re only talking with text, and adding a little indicator to how you’re feeling helps get the message across.

Beforehand, internet goers constructed faces using text, which you had to tilt your head to the left to see. For example, :) is a smiling face, while >:( is an angry one. These went by several names, but they were most often called “emoticons,” which is what you get when you mash the words “emotion” and “icons” together.

Then the emoji came along, and suddenly you didn’t have to turn your head to see what the other person was expressing. And these new faces kept the name “emoji” to better differentiate them from emoticons, which were plain text.

But here’s the weird part; where did the word “emoji” come from? The “emo” part of “emoji” seems like it stands for “emotional,” much like it does for “emoticon.” But then, what’s the “ji” short for?

Well, as it turns out, the word “emoji” isn’t from English at all. In fact, it’s entirely coincidental that the “emo” part sounds similar to emotion or emoticon. It’s just one of those weird things that played out perfectly.

So if it didn’t originate in English, where did “emoji” come from? To answer that, we have to have a quick Japanese lesson, as the emoji originated from Japan.

“Emoji” comes from two Japanese words put together. First, you have the “e”, which is written like this: ?. This character means “picture.”

Next up is the word “moji,” which looks like this: ??. This character means, well…character. Not the kind you see in movies and comic books, but the kind of characters you see in writing.

Stick them together, and what do you get? You get emoji (???) which means “picture characters.” As in, characters on a screen that are, by themselves, pictures.

And as you might expect, emojis were invented in Japan, too. The first instance of them appearing was on a DoCoMo pager, all the way back in 1997. The pager was a big hit with teens because it allowed people to share emotions as images, but when DoCoMo released a business-based pager without some of the fun images, a lot of fans got mad!

Then in November 1997, a company called SoftBank released a phone with emoji on it. These emoji were very similar to the icons we have today, even though they were black-and-white and pixellated. And if you check out the SoftBank emoji, you’ll see a familiar face; the poop emoji, there from day one.

So while emoji feel like a modern-day thing, the invention of these icons date back far further than you may think. And now we finally know why a poop emoji exists!

Learn More

The Softbank Emoji


History of DoCoMo


Who invented Emoji


A Brief History of Emoji


Origin of the Word Emoji


The Invention of Emojis


The Man Who Invented Emojis


How Many Emojis Are There?


New Emojis