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Panda, gun, gift: Why emojis are everywhere now

  • Supercharged emoticons aren't new, but are having a moment
  • Pics instead of words? It's like 'cave paintings for millennials'
  • Apple integration, HBO's 'Girls' episode boost emojis' profile
Emoji combo cited in HBO's "Girls"

I seriously doubt that eskimos really have 100 different words for snow. But I do know that the Japanese have 12 different emojis just for hearts.

Now, why you would need to use the shiny green heart vs. the shiny purple heart, or what it means if you send the heart-within-a-heart-within-a-heart instead of the big heart with its own smaller satellite heart, or the heart which doubles as the international Wi-Fi logo -- I couldn’t really tell you.

And I doubt the eighth-grade girls or 30-somethings on their lunch break who make such executive affectionate decisions on a daily basis could either.

All that really matters is that those two groups of people –- and tens of millions of others around the world -– have adopted the supercharged, Japanese-born offspring of emoticons, known as emojis, as the latest version of scaled-down communications (apparently, vowel-free txt spk is still too cumbersome).  

Basically cave paintings for millennials, emojis certainly are not new. Not even almost. Four years ago, the first chapter of “Moby Dick” was translated using only emojis. The end result, “Emoji Dick” (of course) is now available for purchase.

But they kind of feel new right now. Pretty sure a minute-long exchange revolving around emojis on the recent second season premiere of HBO’s “Girls” tripped the wire here, giving them their most dedicated moment of mainstream exposure. And possibly making "a panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift,” a sequence sent from Shoshana to her sort-of boyfriend, the most texted ridiculous emoji combination of all time.

More con-text: Who sent the 1st txt msg? And what'd it say?

It’s also been about a year and a half since another emoji tipping point: the introduction of an emoji keyboard on all Apple devices. This feature was packaged into iOS 5 and immediately placed hundreds of silly, often-bizarre characters* in the hands of millions of Apple users.

*A fully clothed surfer? A syringe dripping blood? A smiling pile of feces?? A fax machine?!? Someone please send me a text where any of these were actually usefully employed to convey any kind of point.

A long enough time has now passed that the emoji seeds sewn by Apple’s iOS have started to bear fruit (sometimes literally) now visible on screens around the world.

There’s really no hidden code behind emojis. Different icons don’t translate to anything in particular. The bento box is just a bento box. The frog is just a frog. The flying stack of dollar bills is just a … actually, no clue about that one. Maybe it’s something you send after someone messages you that they’re about to make what you consider a seriously wasteful purchase?

shocked smiley face/sailboat/flying stack of cash

Still, just like your standard :) or ;), a large amount of interpretation can be applied to everything from the smiley face sticking out its tongue to the horror-stricken kitty cat. Because why use any punctuation at the end of a sentence like “If I don’t get my hair cut before your wedding I’m gonna look like a Shetland pony. Ugh, this stinks,” when you can just drop a stressed-out smiley face and laughing-so-hard-he’s crying kitten at the end instead?

Or better yet, just replace words with emojis altogether:

Again, cave paintings for millennials.

But, much as they might crush the souls of linguistic purists, there’s still something undeniably just fun about this stuff, which begins to compensate for its potentially boundless amounts of inanity and annoyance. Certainly there’s a place for that in the evolution of communication, isn’t there?

Or is it devolution? Well, at least we know a caveman would now be able to read 21st century text messages. 

smiley face/VHS tape/baby bottle

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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