Emoji: cool for linguists, not so much for journalists


Syllabification: (e·mo·ji)

Pronunciation: /ēˈmōjē/

a small digital image or icon used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communication (see right image).

Emojis are cheeky symbols (see Don Jon text message) most common when sending a quick, cute text. They were first created in the mid-90s in Japan and since have spread like wildfire because of the appeal of fun, simple communication and being smartphone friendly.

As a twenty-something millennial, I know commonality of emojis all too well. I’m sometimes lazy and send a heart emoji (if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll send a green one) or a smiley face grinding its teeth, because I’m just so damn excited about going to the Mall of America on a Sunday afternoon.

But what if the simple and senseless symbols entered the world of journalism? Technically it has already via Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. And just recently the word emoji was added the the Oxford Dictionary.

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We use a visual language; we are storytellers beyond LOL and ROFL. Instead, we combined these artificial, but animated, characters to say more than words alone. It could be a stretch to call emoji’s "motifs," but The Writing Fellows Journal said the symbols provide the "framework for a very intimate language," that is fairly universal and creative (that is, if you have a smartphone—sorry mom).

Check out this real time emoji tracker on Twitter to see just how common emojis actually are today, right this moment in 2013 (warning to those with epileptic tendencies).

"It really has to do with the level of understanding -- to what extent will the target population "get" the reference. It's fairly normal for our mutable language to assimilate symbols. "© 2013," "Pepsicoke®," "¥25,000," and "iStuff" come to mind. Emoticons have become practically ubiquitous. It seems only natural that emoji are next. Seriously: They are relatively new tools, but potentially useful tools if used properly -- and sparingly.” - Bill Reader, Ohio University, associate professor

So is this a bad thing, or a contemporary, fun way for journalists to interact with readers online? Should it be avoided or embraced in new media and multimedia stories?

Local social media expert and editor of the Duluth News Tribune, Jimmy Bellamy, said emoji's have their place, but not necessarily in journalism.

"Emojis have a place in communication, texting and social media, specifically, but I don't see them as something that will or should creep into journalism. Smiling and frowning faces long have been used to convey emotions in writing, even before computers. And with the growth of technology, the symbols, too, have increased. But they should be kept as a brief, seldom-used tool rather than a replacement for the written and typed word." - Jimmy Bellamy, DNT

Basically, emojis are great for making yourself seem more interested in a conversation than you actually may be. Or perhaps you are in a small lecture room and don’t have the time or nerve to respond to that text from Sam asking, “lunch in 5?” (as if that was any effort) So, you just give him a thumbs-up emoji and hope he doesn’t respond with a “Kk.”

You shouldn’t, however, spice up your research paper or article with the colorful, in some ways clever, in many ways contrite, characters.

Along with Bill Reader, I asked other members of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors  about how they felt about the idea of emoji’s entering the world of journalism. Some respondents were more accepting, but the majority was on the same page as Bellamy.

"I've never used emoji nor emoticons, but if it makes for a better headline or graphic -- more reader-friendly -- I would. Readers, voters, taxpayers, etc. -- if it draws them in to read the story, they become MORE informed.” - Gregory Norfleet, West Branch Times, editor.

“I think if we want to revert to communication levels well below that of wild chimpanzees, emoji is the way to go. OK, sorry about the chimpanzee comment… But really. Smiley faces? Kitty and puppy faces? In news stories? Just shoot me now. Right between the eyes.” - Alan Montgomery, Hutchinson Community College, instructor.

“I am in not in favor of another "dumbing down" of our craft. I believe we are the vanguard of the language and as such, we need to strive for correctness in all cases.” - Vickie Canfield Peters, former ISWNE Foundation president.

“Seems to me more like a modern version of hobo symbols.” - Dan Robrish, Elizabethtown Advocate, editor.


At the end of the day, it’s up to the text-er if they want to simply say goodnight or be a little more playful.

The reader of news should be reading words, not symbols. I mean, have you ever thought of what it would be like reading story only consisting of emojis? These guys have (and they are fricking brilliant). Regardless, emojis are just an expansion, another advancement of humanity's linguistic abilities. Emoji was made for iPhones and emails, not breaking and daily news.

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