Give us a break: keep Unicode clean

📢 Emojis are hardly new. In their all-colour glossy form they originated in around 1998 and first appeared in a Japanese mobile Internet platform, but originated in emoticons, plain text combinations such as the widely-used 🙂 or 🙂 ‘smiley’, which go back to the early twentieth century, and flourished as the Internet got going in the 1980s.

Humans have of course used graphic objects in written language since the dawn of writing, but such objects are more properly referred to as logograms, as they represent words or morphemes rather that objects or concepts. But their origin and significance is fundamentally similar, and they differ from alphabets which are more representative of phonological building blocks.

As far as Unicode is concerned, colour emoji or emoticons were first introduced five years ago (2010) in Unicode version 6.0. Their use in Unicode has been surprisingly tentative, perhaps as applications and services have somewhat grudgingly wrenched themselves from plain old ASCII text to full-blown Unicode support.

For many, 2015 has been the year that emojis have gone mainstream, being much more accessible in operating systems and applications, and more extensively usable, particularly in the social media.

Oxford Dictionaries – the closest that the English language gets to authority – caused a sensation when they declared 😂 ‘face with tears of joy’ (Unicode character U+1F602) as their Word of the Year for 2015. The mythical Mildred McTaggart of Croydon – and her many fellow travellers – shook with rage that the bastion of the language had chosen something which was neither a word, nor the sort of thing that she could write in her letters to her nieces.

Interestingly, Oxford Dictionaries also noticed a sharp upturn in the frequency of use of the word emoji in 2015. But it is worth noting one of the very significant words which made their shortlist, and went no further: ad blocker.

Here we enter murkier territory: the relationship between the Unicode standard, commerce, and emojis. There is predecent, I am afraid: a spirited campaign by Taco Bell had fast food items such as 🍔 hamburgers augmented by the taco 🌮 this year.

So we should not be surprised by Nestlé’s attempt to promote its own KitKat brand into an offical emoji, to supplement its emoticon of /’\ meaning ‘break’, as in ‘have a break, have an unbranded Unicode emoji’.

Full marks for trying, Nestlé, but I am sincerely hoping that the committee of good taste in the Unicode Consortium will recognise the blatant promotion which would result. We might then see rental deals to use emoji for advertising purposes: luxury 👜 manufacturers paying for their logo to be installed, 🍟 fast food chains likewise, branded and styled 🚗, airlines ✈️, 🖥📱⌚️ for Apple products, and many more.

There is only one response which we should all make: 🚫
or emoji and Unicode will become like everything else tainted by marketing: 💩