Re: Exact definition of "emoji"?

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Mon Dec 22 2008 - 16:24:50 CST

> On Sun, Dec 21, 2008 at 7:09 AM, Karl Pentzlin
> > Maybe I have overlooked something, but I did not find an exact
> > definition of "emoji" by which can be decided whether any symbol is an
> > emoji or not.

Markus Scherer responded:

> I don't see that there needs to be a formal definition at all. We are
> proposing to encode symbols that are encoded as characters in Japanese cell
> phone systems, and the formal proposal document will have the proposed name,
> glyph and code point for each symbol. Terms like "Emoji" are useful in
> discussing where these things are defined and used, that is, part of the
> background information.

The last time we went around on this topic in a way that
burned up the discussion list was about 15 months ago.

Here's a portion of the note I wrote back then in September, 2007,
which clarified the terms "emoji" and "emotikon".


========================== necropost ===========================

Date: Fri, 7 Sep 2007 18:48:31 -0700 (PDT)
From: Kenneth Whistler <>
Subject: Emoji & Emoticon Redux (was: blah de blah de... Encoding Emoji Symbols)


Emoji is actually the Japanese word for "pictograph", and
long predates the existence and use of emoticons in email
and bulletin boards (and later websites and forums, and
now in text messaging).

Emoji: U+7D75, U+6587, U+5B57, literally: "picture-writing"
       or "picture-script", hence "picto-graph".
The Chinese for the same concept is xiang4xing2wen2zi4
       U+8C61, U+5F62, U+6587, U+5B57, literally: "image-writing"
       and denoting the same concept, "pictograph". It also
       is used specifically for "hieroglyph".
"Emoticon" is a cutesy English language neologism, of course,
       from "emote" + "icon". Lots more on the wiki.
The Japanese translation of "emoticon" is kaomoji or
       kaofugou, literally "face mark". And "face mark" even
       occasionally gets calqued back into English to
       refer to them.
The whole area then gets murkified by the happy (or unhappy)
coincidence that "emoji" is very similar to how the first 3 syllables
of "emoticon" would be pronounced as borrowed into the Japanese
language. So they look and sound as if they *should* be
etymologically related. And of course, because they seem to
be people treat them as such, and the distinction has become

Now, the symbols in question used by the Japanese wireless
operators are all lumped together as "emoji", and referred to
as that both inside and outside the industry, despite the
fact that they constitute a mixture of pictographs proper,
non-pictographic symbols, and emoticons (which themselves are
a strange offbranch of pictographs, developing with their
own idiosyncratic logic different from non-emoticon pictographs).

So I guess the moral of *this* story, at least today, is
be careful about terminology here. Emoji is not the same
as emoticon, and the encoding issues involved are diverse,
depending on exactly which sets of which kinds of things
we are talking about at any point.



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