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The Trend I Don't Want To Follow

I know I should jump on the bandwagon ... but why??

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The Girlfriend Staff
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Emojis!! Do I really, truly have to use them? Almost everyone I know puts them into their texts, and the tiny symbols look so bright and jolly, especially as a finale cluster! Perhaps I’ll seem stuffy if I don’t festoon my own texts — emails, too? — with emojis! Surely, it’s high time I joined the party and went with the flow! It shouldn’t take me long to learn the language — say, an hour a day for a month or so. I could do it, I’m sure.

But what about the admonition addressed to toddlers: “Use your words!” Words have been my medium of expression my entire life! To use the smiley face ☺️ means that I’m not actually saying the words “I’m excited, I’m delighted, I’m pleased, I’m joking,” or “I approve.” The smiley emoji ☺️ is broad and simple, happy and dumb. I like to be precise. I savor subtle shades of meaning, and it always gives me a little thrill to remember that there are no exact synonyms in the English language. Each word has its individual connotation.

Even “small” and “little” are different from each other: “Small” is often derogatory; “little” is often cute. English has more words than any other language, and it’s a pleasure to learn a new one, such as “guddle,” which means to catch fish with the hands by groping (as under banks or stones). Such pinpoint precision in a verb!

By contrast, using emojis sometimes seems like the language of George Orwell’s 1984, where all notions of good and bad can be expressed in Newspeak words: good, ungood, doublegood, doubleungood, doubleplusgood and doubleplusungood. No transcendent, no exquisite, no charming, no wicked, no disgusting, no appalling!

I write this on World Emoji Day. There are now 4,000 or so emojis in all, including what I call the “diversity emojis.” That means the smiley face, the thumbs-up and others can come with skin color of the sender (or maybe the recipient?). To me, the bright yellow smiley has a universal quality. Being the skin color of no human being, it seems appropriate for all human beings, but the Unicode Consortium, which decides on new emojis every year, thinks otherwise. Some new emojis this year are woman with a beard (in the gender neutral category); interracial couple —hetero- and homosexual; and the bandaged or healing heart.

With thousands of emojis to choose from, however, it can take a while to find the right one. After all, they’re not listed in alphabetical order! One calls up various screens and categories; sometimes a generic dog is all you need, but other times a poodle may be required. I kept looking for an emoji that would express irony, and finally had to settle for the winking face. Seriously?

Nonetheless, many feel that emojis have become a wildly successful kind of Esperanto, with literally billions of users. People have been yearning for a universal language since biblical times. Could this be it? Could emojis help bring us together and make the world a more pleasant place?

The Semiotics of Emoji by Marcel Danesi reveals that 70 percent of emoji use is to express positive emotions. Perhaps Emoji is the language of gladness. Harper’s Index for July 2021 tells us that 75 percent of Britons think emojis are an important tool for creating “unity, respect and understanding,” while almost that many (72 percent) “find it easier to express themselves in emoji than in words.”

No question: Emojis make texts more amusing and enjoyable. Although they will never displace words, even a language curmudgeon like myself has to admit that emojis add a colorful flavor to informal messages. They allow for a quick comment on what has been said, either by the sender or the recipient. A thumbs-up is a muscular way of a greeting with an incoming text, much more powerful than “OK” (or “K” as it is now shortened in the interest of saving a keystroke). Or they can convey one’s own deep emotions: The emoji of the face with tears of joy was selected in 2015 as the “word” of the year by no less than the Oxford English Dictionary.

Emojis somehow add a festive note to any simple message or request. I might text my husband to get yogurt — and add a heart ❤️ or two to the message. Or I might send or receive a happy birthday text enhanced by cakes and ribbons. The little images add sparkle to the text and evoke a childlike joy.

Speaking of which, I have a 4-year-old granddaughter who lives far away. When she’s old enough to start texting, I will absolutely be using emojis! For I will need to send her hearts and bunnies, rainbows and unicorns.❤️❤️❤️❤️