The conflicting needs of emoji

Asmus Freytag asmusf at
Thu Oct 20 21:51:20 CDT 2022

On 10/20/2022 4:46 PM, Mark E. Shoulson via Unicode wrote:
> On 10/20/22 11:38, Asmus Freytag via Unicode wrote:
>> On 10/20/2022 2:07 AM, Dominikus Dittes Scherkl via Unicode wrote:
>>> Am 20.10.22 um 00:26 schrieb Marius Spix via Unicode:
>>>> There is actually a sequence of Unicode characters to clearly describe
>>>> a “Physics Teacher” without the downsides you have mentioned:
>>>> U+0050 U+0068 U+0079 U+0073 U+0069 U+0063 U+0073 U+0020 U+0054 U+0065
>>>> U+0061 U+0063 U+0068 U+0065 U+0072
>>> This has a different downside: You need to speak english to understand
>>> it. This is especially what emoji try to circumvent.
>>> -- 
>> No. Emoji weren't and aren't used primarily to be language 
>> independent. In fact, I bet there's much use of emoji that is based 
>> on puns and similar mechanisms: where the emoji is used to stand for 
>> a word in an expression in some language where another language (or 
>> culture) would employ a different word or expression, so that even 
>> translating the nominal meaning of the emoji wouldn't help you.
> A few years ago, I bought The Emoji Haggadah 
> (, 
> which has essentially the whole text of the Haggadah in emoji.  In 
> *English* in emoji, mind you.  So for example I think it tended to use 
> 🐇 to mean "rabbi".
> The truly disturbing thing about it was that I found I could read it!!
> Emoji are very definitely culture-centric.  Are they language-centric 
> like the string of letters?  Probably not.  I think I have to agree 
> that the string of Latin letters is not an acceptable substitute for 
> an emoji, but that doesn't mean emoji are a language-free neutral zone 
> of graphics.
> ~mark

There are lots of expressions that would lend themselves to being 
emojified. Like "pear shaped". I can easily imagine a conversation where 
you could use a single PEAR emoji to express that something might turn 
out badly (or has done so). Unlike STAR used in a way derived from movie 
star, the concept of something going "pear shaped" has not crossed over 
widely into other languages and cultures.

Your example of rabbi(t) is also a good one, because such pun-like uses 
of emoji are common. All of them are intricately bound up with a 
language or culture or both.

Whereas the two vertical rectangles, or the right pointing triangle are 
truly language independent means of conveying "pause" and "play".

One more example: for an English speaking user, combining the apple with 
an eye emoji might convey "apple of my eye", or something precious. A 
German speaking user would more likely read that as a very literal 
attempt at rendering"eyeball" (Augapfel).

The whole idea that emoji as a system have anything to do with 
language-independence is simply a red herring. It doesn't match their 
origin story, doesn't match their usage history when they first became 
popular and doesn't match how they are used today. That remains the 
case, even if there are ways you can try to use them (or a subset of 
them) to get your point across when you don't share a language with 
someone. But such usages are probably hit or miss. Lucky coincidences if 
they work.

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