Gotta hand it to you … ✨
Writing a proposal doesn't require slight of hand. Here are a few tips on what makes for an effective gesture emoji
Ever scratched your head wondering why there isn’t a scratching your head emoji? Are you thinking gesture 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔 about hand emoji? Well, you have found the right newsletter. The latest and greatest emoji update (Emoji 14.0) includes 37 new emoji and ten of them are hand gestures!!!
Face with Open Eyes and Hand Over Mouth
Face with Peeking Eye
Palm Down Hand
Palm Up Hand
Hand with Index Finger and Thumb Crossed
Index Pointing at the Viewer
WHY SO MANY HANDS?!?!?!?!
I’m glad you asked.
Hands and faces emoji have been included since the early days of emoji encoding and are among the most frequently used type of emoji. While frequency isn’t the only way to measure the quality of an emoji … there is a reason why hands are so popular. Hand gestures, eye contact, body language “talk” 💅🏿 just as much as words 🙏🏻 We are HARD WIRED to gesticulate . We gesture when talking even if we aren’t face to face 🤌🏽🤌🏽🤌🏽🤌🏽 — like on the telephone or practicing a speech 🏼. "The act of gesturing is certainly universal, as far as we know. In every group yet studied, the hands at least occasionally stir and take flight as people talk," notes researcher Kensy Cooperrider.
The key phrase here is “the act”. Specific gestures ARE NOT universal (pro tip: don't go throwing 👌🏾 in Brazil unless you wanna get tackled).
So, how many hand shape emoji exist? Well, as of Emoji 14.0 there are nine “face-hand” emoji and forty-three “hand emoji”:
hand-fingers-partial 👌🤌🤏✌🤞🤟🤘 🤙
hand-single-finger 👈 👉👆🖕👇☝
From a technical perspective it’s worth observing that unlike “People” 🙅🏼♂️🤷🏾♀️🙎🏻 “Smiley” 🥲😜 do not take skin tone or gender modifiers. And, unlike “People” 🧑🏻🏫👩🏾⚕️🤵🏼♂️, “Hand shapes” 💪🏼✊🏿👋🏾 take skin tone but not gender modifiers. That means these two types of emoji (😅👍) have fewer modifications than full “People” 🧘🏻💁🏽♂️🤸🏾♀️ emoji, which have both gender and skin tone modifiers. Given the state of most emoji keyboards today, this reduces the cognitive load the average user has to make when choosing an emoji to represent themself.
You’re in Good Hands 🤲
There is loads of guidance on hand emoji thanks to Lauren Gawne, gesture linguist and emoji subcommittee volunteer. Lauren has published a number of documents including tips on what to consider when writing a proposal and filed reports exploring emblem gestures that occur in large populations. (She also has an EXCELLENT podcast Lingthusiasm, of which I am a paid Patreon member. #notanad #SMASHSUBSCRIBE!)
After reading countless proposals and writing a few ourselves, we have some tips on preparing a hand-gesture proposal:
Go BIG before you go ₛₘₐₗₗ
It’s really difficult to design a system that is created piecemeal. That’s why when writing a proposal my first step is to always take a step back before getting too deep on any one idea. One example of this is a comparison of Unicode faces and JVL morphemes (Japanese Visual Language of manga). This audit of over 60 concepts (conducted thanks to the research of comics theorist Neil Cohn) resulted in the encoding of four emoji: 😶🌫️.
🧑🏫 Pro Tip: We recommend citing evidence of how your addition completes a set or doesn’t expose the Unicode Technical Committee to more proposals of similar type. Compatibility with existing writing systems continues to be a priority. Kushim Jiang’s document shows the utility of comparing proposed Unicode emoji to characters on other platforms, including QQ and WeChat.
Hands or faces with objects
To propose a hand or face emoji with an object (e.g. 💅✍️🤳🤧) you need to demonstrate that the combination is intrinsic and requires the combination of both the face/hand and the object.
🧑🏫 Pro Tip: You may find more success proposing a hand emoji that can be used alongside existing object emoji rather than proposing that it be combined with one. See: Hand with palm facing up and Hand with palm facing down (L2/20-213)
Emoji proposals require evidence that your concept is something that is already in common use and not theoretical. Rather than trying to invent something new, provide evidence that the proposed image is a long standing visual morpheme, trope, or emblem. Faces and hands usually have meanings that are not easily pinned down by words but present the strongest search term data you can.
🧑🏫 Pro Tip: Don’t forget to supplement your data with additional evidence that demonstrates your emoji’s pervasiveness. Look to ancient scripture, literature, culture, comics, art, etc.
Specificity isn’t always your friend
As is the case with all emoji, creating a case for more nuanced gestures isn’t always effective. Face emoji, rather than full body emoji, are easier to see at emoji sizes, and require no modifiers for skin color and gender, and therefore are more accessible to more people.
Can’t decide if your emoji should be a person or an object? A person or a smiley? A hand or a person? 🧑🏫 Pro Tip: People emoji are tricky to justify encoding due to the technical complexity so if you can’t decide between a “person” emoji or something else … choose something else.
Time to get your hands dirty ✍
With so many new hand gestures landing in your keyboard, let's take a look at how they got there. “Hand gestures are not universal so there's only so many that are really valuable on the emoji keyboard,” Lauren told me over chat. “My favouites are the ones that are flexible and can have different meanings: the can be a heart made with your fingers, a click, or money money money.”
I love that one too. Here is a small sampling of proposals that range from hands to smileys with hands and all of them are money money money
Melting Face (L2/20-072)
The most anticipated emoji of the year™️, the melting face proposal includes images from multimedia to illustrate a wide range of metaphoric uses.
Hand with index finger and thumb (L2/19-327)
One emoji. Many gestures. Note the name isn’t prescriptive of what the hand gesture means and is instead more descriptive. Gestures are flexible depending on who or what you’re talking about (can be a hand snapping , fingers rubbing the world’s tiniest violin 🎻, or finger heart 💖).
Hand with palm facing up and Hand with palm facing down (L2/20-213)
A great example of how to demonstrate the flexibility of a new emoji by how it interacts with a wide variety of objects (throw a hot potato 🔥🥔, drop the mic 🎤). This document also includes two different emoji to argue for completeness of this set.
As discussed in previous newsletters, this proposal illustrates the application of a distorted effect using images from literature.
Face With Open Eyes and Hand Over Mouth (L2/19-304)
Oy. Who wants to be misunderstood??? This successful submission on the basis of compatibility clearly demonstrates a need for the addition of an emoji similar to an existing emoji (FACE WITH HAND OVER MOUTH 🤭). Citing examples from pop culture, media, and literature to support the value of disambiguating the change that happens when the eyes are smiling (existing emoji) and eyes open in surprise (this proposal).
Index Pointing at the Viewer (L2/20-212)
An iconic hand-shape found in popular iconography and signed languages.
What to do when there is no global agreement on how to salute? Compromise. (This proposal also provides a case for a face rather than body with additional gender and skin tone modifiers.)
Holding my Hand to Fire
Despite this whole bloggyletter focusing on hand emoji … the truth is not being able to use ANY emoji when I text is like talking with my hands tied behind my back 😤👎 In a way, all emoji function as gesture even if they aren’t literally hand gestures — ✨🔥💕🎉💯 — many of the most popular emoji seem to follow a pattern of communicative non-speech visualizations — dare we call them "Emoji gestures"? Again, Lauren Gawne with fellow linguist, Gretchen McCulloch have written about this extensively. To put it simply: Hand emoji are gesture 💪💪💪💪. Fire emoji are gesture 🔥🔥🔥🔥. ALL THE GREAT EMOJI ARE GESTURE, CAPICHE???? 🤌🤌🤌🤌🤌