They Came, They ☺, They Conquered

Pop Culture

They Came, They ☺, They Conquered

Illustration: Namaah

Kim Kardashian gave me a Christmas present – an entire vocabulary of emotions. It’s a full complement of emoji, called “Kimoji”, in which her bootylicious ass features prominently, engaged in activities that your behind and mine are unlikely to ever be engaged in.

Cost of Kimoji app – ₹120.

Letting Kim Kardashian’s ass do all the talking – Priceless.

Suddenly, everyone seems to be jumping onto the emoji bandwagon. Right from Fred Berenson who translated Moby Dick into emojis, to Sony Pictures with the first all-emoji movie – everyone’s putting their money where our keyboards are and re-creating the world based on these pictograms. Even Hillary Clinton has an emoji keyboard full of “hill-mojis” available free for download. (Full disclosure: HER derriere is conspicuously absent. Just saying.)

But whether they come with a perfectly rounded ass or not, I along with 99.99 per cent of digitally literate human beings, love emojis. There are several complex sociological and linguistic factors that would explain our addiction, which in scientific terms can be stated as “??❤️??✌?️??????.”

What’s not to love? Emojis are fun, easy to use and can express simply and playfully what words cannot. Most importantly, as pictures chosen to depict universal human emotions and icons – they ideally don’t need any explanation across age and cultures. Even daft oldies, who thought LOL meant lots of love, should know that ? means you’re not going to laugh out loud any time soon.

However, daft oldies should never be underestimated – they have a way of misunderstanding and mangling everything. Know the most popular emoji in the demographic of “pious aunties with a smartphone”? It’s a high five! It’s only when you see the emoji and the context in which it is sent (with a Hari Om or a Namaste, often accompanying invitations to satsangs) that you realise that one man’s high five is a pious aunty’s prayer hands (?)!

But, playfulness and ease of use aside, the reason emojis have been so successful in colonising our keyboards is because they help us write like we speak. So writing, “It’s raining ??????” is understood in the same way as your saying, “It’s raining,” and breaking out into a jig.

That is huge. I mean, really.

Gestures and body language have been critical in communication because they’ve allowed us to express ourselves non-linguistically. And now it turns out that emojis help us to do exactly that. So writing, “exam ?” conveys without words that your performance in the said exam could have been microscopically improved. Which is a massively complex and sophisticated piece of non-verbal communication, especially for a humble pile of poop to achieve.

But Unicode Consortium, the gatekeepers and regulators of the emoji world, need to be congratulated not just for upcycling piles of poop and adding a bacon emoji to the bank of 1,200 standard emojis. They’re doing amazing stuff – they’ve made racially diverse emoji standard across platforms, added the flag of practically every country, and broadened the definition of love and relationships to include same-sex couples and families. (That’s more tolerance in a keyboard of 1,200 characters than a country of 1.2 billion.)

“Chill, language Cassandras, the experts have spoken – emojis may currently be kicking the ass of mere words, but they can never ever replace them.”

While many purists bemoan the rise of emoji as the death knell of the written word, I can’t quite comprehend what they are moaning about. Emojis are used differently than words are – for instance, millennials who aren’t overly fixated with the literal meaning of a specific emoji use them as broad brushstrokes to convey information or feeling.

Brooklyn teenager Osiris Aristy found this out the hard way when he posted an emoji of a gun next to one of a cop in a Facebook post. While he definitely wanted to convey that the New York Police Department wasn’t on top of his popularity charts, he didn’t expect to be arrested for threatening them. Thankfully, the jury (obviously less literal minded than the police) threw out the charge.

Neil Cohn is a cognitive scientist who has studied emojis in the context of visual language. He believes that emojis can at best supplement language, never supplant it. Because one can’t say even a simple sentence like “my brother is surfing” in emoji and have it universally understood; he believes emoji speak will always be inflexible and stilted.

So chill, language Cassandras, the experts have spoken – emojis may currently be kicking the ass of mere words, but they can never ever replace them.

So, a ? to the pictograms that have taken over our ?. They’ve added to the richness and beauty of language by adding imagery that is evocative and playful. So no matter how old you are, a ??? always means ?. And though you might struggle to express in words a feeling of simultaneous supreme confidence, a certain je ne sais quoi, a queenliness and utter disregard for the ordinary, there’s ? available in the emoji world to do it efficiently for you. And for everyone who has bemoaned the lack of options in digital media to present one’s amorous side to one’s partner, consider sending a sext using the simple but elegant ?. I have it on good authority that it is widely recognised as a cheeky but sexy offer and that it has supplanted the ? as the amorous fruit du jour. (Emoji Dick, anyone?)

Being able to convey love, swag, and sex all at the click of an icon – could communication get any richer?


I think not.