The proposal for a mammoth emoji—coming to an iPhone near you next month—doesn’t just give a brief natural history of the extinct pachyderm. It also includes a chart comparing the incidence of the word “mammoth” in books to “elephant” and “tyrannosaurus” and imagines congratulatory messages that use a mammoth emoji to say an accomplishment is “huge.”
The proposal for an onion emoji (added in 2019) begins with the classic “ogres are like onions” monologue from the movie Shrek, suggesting the emoji could be used to describe a complex situation or person. The bagel proposal offers a long cultural history of the breakfast food, predicts spikes in use on Saturdays and Sundays, and suggests it could catch on as a shorthand for carb-loading athletes.
Though it may seem they’ve always been there, emoji started as a grassroots solution to what was in the 1980s and 1990s a relatively new problem: misunderstandings on the internet. In the ensuing decades, these symbols have evolved from simple tone markers to a full-strength industry and language of their own, a phenomenon worthy of business investment and academic research. Hollywood made a whole movie out of emoji (yes, the plural of emoji is…emoji). They turn up on all sorts of merchandise and stand in for slang. Why type out a comment calling a party or a song “straight fire” when you could pull up your emoji keyboard and just tap once?
That the UNICODE consortium, which oversees emoji, has instituted a lengthy application process for new emoji shows that it takes seriously the power of a miniaturized wooly mammoth or eggplant or mug of beer. The organization, which is behind much of the standardization of internet alphabets, insists its new emoji be multilayered, ready to be wielded on TikTok and Twitter, and over text. UNICODE has