Are you laughing at me?🤭
This month's emoji update finally fixes a problem that has plagued our keyboards for half a decade.
This month, Google, Twitter, and Apple fully rolled out 37 emoji that are appearing in your emoji keyboard of choice. Among them was one that looked familiar to iOS users — a smiley face with a hand covering its mouth and open eyes. I assure you, you’re not experiencing the Mandela effect. This emoji is both old and new! Alive and dead! 😈
You see, emoji are a font. That’s right. A font. I know. They look like tiny pictures but they operate the same way any other letter of the alphabet does when it enters our digital realm: अ, ℵ, A.
Like the letter अ (U+0905), each emoji is assigned a code point 🤔 (U+1F914) by the Unicode Consortium. (It’s true, some emoji contain multiple code points. I’m being naughty generalizing here. Don’t tell the Unicode Consortium). Anyways, emoji are a font and like fonts some emoji look different!
We’ve seen the memes — every emoji font has their own flavor. Some of these design variations are trivial and create distinctions of no real difference. Others, primarily the smilies (😆🤣🥲) the details really matter! We’re hardwired to read micro-expressions! If an emoji face has a slightly more downwards smirk IT CAN RUIN FRIENDSHIPS. Fortunately, over the past three years designs have converged reducing the variance of interpretation and risk of being misunderstood 🌈
But, one emoji remained unchanged. Stubborn. Almost as if it was laughing at me. Or maybe, it was paralyzed from shock. Hard to tell because the emoji I speak of is the 🤭 Face with Hand Over Mouth.
Here we have one emoji with two distinct expressions. And, it wasn’t going unnoticed. Actress Jameela Jamil discovered the power of fonts in 2020 when she posted a shocked face but to everyone else on Twitter it looked like she was laughing. (Yikes!) She later deleted the tweet.
WHO WANTS TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD??
(To the tune of ghostbusters 🎶) When code points are needed / for compatibility / with frequently-used emoji / in popular existing systems / who you gonna call? THE EMOJI SUBCOMMITTEE 🎶 (Sorry) You see, this is exactly why emoji are part of the Unicode standard in the first place!!!! Ok, so it appears we have two meaningful and distinct expressions. One with a hand covering a face with open eyes. Another with closed eyes.
Sufficient evidence was gathered that these are distinct expressions and not merely variations of the same thing. A proposal was written. We rotated around the sun three times and BOOM in your pocket are two emoji: One for “shock” () and another that is “giggling” (🤭). (Why did it take so long? Due to COVID its debut into the Unicode Standard was delayed.)
Today, we have a far more consistent design for 🤭 Face with Hand Over Mouth. Though, you may be wondering what happened to Apple’s old “face with hand over mouth” design. Well, to improve interoperability and to be faithful to the Unicode Standard guidelines Apple “moved” the “open eye” design to the new code point ( Face with Open Eyes and Hand Over Mouth). Then, adjusted the “old” code point (previously with open eyes) to have closed eyes like everyone else.
And that my friend is how an emoji can be both old and new, alive and dead simultaneously. Wait — does that make it SCHRÖDINGER’S EMOJI???!!! 🤭
Note: If you are seeing tiny boxes (known as tofus) in the above paragraphs I’m sorry to say your Operating System may be out of date 🤸🕳️ If you work for Substack I’m happy to chat about how to fix it 🎷🐛 lol