From tsunami to head honcho, English boasts no end to Japanese loan words. Artsy chefs now talk of umami and revelers belt out karaoke, so it is no surprise to see the Merriam-Webster dictionary honoring another new arrival: emoji, familiar to mobile users worldwide.
A nod and a wink
Emoji are graphical pictograms that inject color and commentary into text communication.
More than 800 emoji are available for iOS devices, including such absurdities as blowfish, poodles and feces.
By 2016, Apple is expected to introduce 38 new ones in response to popular demand: Online requests have called for graphical representations of the words selfie, avocado, and bacon, as well.
The term comprises the Japanese words “e” (picture) and “moji” (character).
Smile, it helps
Emoji help people express their feelings more directly, said Ayumu Arakawa, an associate professor at Musashino Art University who studies nonverbal human behavior.
“Studies show sending messages with emoji conveys what people want to say more precisely than doing so without them,” Arakawa said.
He added doing so grabs people’s attention visually — in the same way that meeting someone in real life conveys so much more than merely hearing their voice on the telephone.
In addition, using emoji allows people to personalize their messages according to their own taste. This is one reason why individualists tend to be the correspondents who pepper their messages with the images, he said.
Emoji may be a norm for communication between young people, but misuse can create misunderstandings.
Moreover, excessive reliance on emoji can lead to their creeping into inappropriate venues. Takachiho University associate professor Koichi Kobayashi in January was widely reported to have complained on his Twitter account that students even insert emoji into their graduation theses.
Emoji may be in universal use, but Apple recently felt there was a need to create different sets for people of different ethnic backgrounds, adding a variety of differently colored human faces.
The move misfired. Some Asian Internet communities ridiculed the default color used for emoji faces as racist: It was bright yellow.
Different nationalities use emoji differently.
According to the SwiftKey Emoji Report of April 2015, French speakers use heart emoji about four times more on average than people in other countries.
Australians use alcohol-related emoji twice as often as others. They also lace their messages with 65 percent more drug emoji.
The same research found Canadians are more likely to use emoji that are typically considered to be American stereotypes, such those related to money, guns, sports and sexual innuendo, such as eggplant.
Americans, by contrast, tend to use skulls, technology, meat and LGBT-related emoji more often than others.
The Arab world was all flowers and fragrance: The report found that Arabic speakers use blossoms and plants four times more than the global average.
Meanwhile, U.S.-based matching service Match.com’s annual Singles in America survey in 2015 found that people who use emoji in texts had more sex monthly than those cold fish who don’t.
Do you know your emoji?
While most emoji are self-explanatory, a few might mystify texters unfamiliar with Japan.
Here are a few of the more easily misunderstood hieroglyphics:
Left: OK, that means dash, not expelling gas.
Center: Anime fans should recognize this symbol, which means frustration and anger
Right: Not a shooting star but actually a sign for feeling dizzy.
Left: Praying? High-five? This is a common gesture in Japan when people are asking for forgiveness.
Center: Contrary to popular opinion overseas, this emoji shows a man bowing deeply, not doing a push-up.
Right: The pink shirt lady is making an “O” with her hands as in “OK,” although it may look like she’s performing a pirouette
Left: It doesn’t mean you love your phone, but is instead the symbol for putting your phone into manner mode.
Center: Upside down “Star Trek” symbol? No, it’s actually the “shoshinsha” mark for new drivers in Japan.
Right: Here’s your gold star if you knew that reads “Taihen yoku dekimashita” (“You did well”), and is basically a stamp of approval.