The Wonderful World of Emoji

You’ll be familiar with Coffee Break French, Coffee Break Spanish and indeed our other Coffee Break German, Italian and Chinese editions, but what about Coffee Break Emoji? With millions of “fluent” users around the world, Emoji is here to stay, and what better day to write about this interesting language of pictures than on 17th July, World Emoji Day?

Before we get started, let’s clarify one thing: Emoji is the word used for the “language”, and it is made up of individual images, or “emojis”, so we’ll be using both Emoji and emojis throughout this article. 👍🏻 Read on for more information about the origins of Emoji.


Interestingly, the word emoji is made from a combination of two Japanese words; e (絵) meaning “picture”, and moji (文字) meaning “character”. Created by Japanese interface designer Shigetaka Kurita in 1999, the 176 original emoji designs were only the beginning of what was to become a worldwide phenomenon in a matter of a few years.

In the beginning the Emoji keyboard was only released in Japan on iPhones, but the success of these small pictorial symbols representing words, emotions and much more led to the release of the Emoji keyboards to the rest of the world. At the time of writing there are over 3000 emojis, and no doubt this figure will continue to grow. The use of Emoji has truly dominated the online world of communication, whether simply to enhance a sentence, or convey emotions which can’t be expressed easily in words, or even write full sentences using nothing but emojis!

Lending even more kudos to the “language”, the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji (you know the one… 😂) was named “Word of the Year” by the Oxford English Dictionary, and in 2017 Emoji hit the big screen with the release of The Emoji Movie.

How popular is Emoji?

Whether you’re a regular user of emojis, or you tend to be more of a recipient of image-laden messages, you’ll be 🌬 (blown away) by some of the staggering statistics mentioned on the official World Emoji Day website.

  • Did you know that over 900 million emojis are sent every day without text on Facebook Messenger?
  • Every day more than 700 million emojis are used in Facebook posts.
  • Already by mid-2015 half of all Instagram comments included an emoji.

Pretty 🤯 (mind-blowing), no?

Japanese origins

Of course, any language carries with it a huge amount of cultural significance, and Emoji ticks this box too. Given its Japanese origins, we can even learn something about Japanese culture through some particularly interesting emojis. Here are some examples, as explained by the Emojipedia, the self-professed “Home of Emoji Meanings”.

  • 🔰 – This emoji is a Shoshinsha Mark and it is the symbol used in Japan by learner drivers. It’s almost the equivalent of the “L Plate” that we use here in the UK, but in Japan, drivers must continue to display their Shoshinsha Marks for a year after passing their test.
  • ㊗️ – This emoji features the Japanese character 祝 which is linked to the word meaning “celebrate” or “congratulate” and is therefore used to mean “congratulations”.
  • 🏣 – This emoji represents a Japanese Post Office. If you’re familiar with the Japanese Katakana syllabary, then you’ll recognise the character テ which is pronounced as te from the word teishin (逓信 “communications”).
  • 💮 – Again, if you look closely into this cherry blossom emoji, you should see some Japanese text. Traditional Japanese texts were written vertically from right to left, so the words in this emoji are 大変よくできました (taihen yoku dekimashita) which means something along the lines of “very well done” or “you did very well”. According to Emojipedia, teachers in Japan use this as a stamp on high quality work and this is definitely one of our favourites!

And if you’re feeling hungry then there is plenty of inspiration in the Food and Drink section of Emoji with a distinct Japanese flavour:

  • 🍱 Bento Box – A traditional Japanese lunch box with different compartments.
  • 🍥 (Slice of) Narutomaki – A Japanese fishcake.
  • 🍡 Dango – A Japanese dumpling.
  • 🍢 Oden – A skewer of Japanese Oden, which includes ingredients such as boiled eggs and fishcakes.
  • 🍣 Sushi – Japanese Sushi, rice with two pieces of raw fish on top.
  • 🍘 Rice Cracker – Senbei (rice cracker) with a sheet of Nori (seaweed).

A global “language”

Given that Emoji is becoming an international “language” used by an ever-increasing number of people, it’s not surprising that the most popular emojis vary from country to country. While the simple smile 😀 tops the list almost everywhere, an interesting survey looked at the second-favourite emojis of survey participaints in various countries around the world. It seems that the UK, the USA, Jamaica and Trinidad all share 😂 as their second-favourite emoji; Canada and New Zealand very much enjoy a classic ❤️; South Africa prefers 😘; Ireland’s favourite is apparently 💩; and it’s a win for 😜 in Australia. This survey dates from 2017, so let us know in the comments where you’re from and if you have a favourite emoji at the moment.

Does all this sound familiar?

As we’ve seen, Emoji is, in its own way, a form of language. But does the idea of communicating through pictures and symbols remind you of anything? It could be said that this is nothing new: the Hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians conveyed meaning through images as far back as 3200BCE and they’re often compared to the use of emojis in present-day communications.

However, although aspects of the two are similar, the fact remains that hieroglyphs are much more complex than simple pictures and they could be combined to create other words. As effective as emojis are at helping us show whether we are 😄 or 😞, have a 🐱 or a 🐶, or are in a ✈️ or a 🚗, they can’t really convey grammatical constructions or complex information. Nevertheless, they are great fun, and a fantastic addition to the languages we speak!

We hope that you’ve learned something new from this article, and are now an Emoji expert. Leave a comment below if you have a favourite emoji, or let us know if you’re celebrating World Emoji Day! 👋

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