In the Beginning: The True Story of Emoji

Two Emoji Plush Dolls


Emoticons and the “Have a Nice Day” T-shirt face got married and had a child called Emoji. No, that isn’t what really happened, but who doesn’t want to hear a happily ever after story? The truth behind our beloved emojis is still interesting.


It wasn’t until 1999 that the first widely used emojis came onto the scene. Shigetaka Kurita, an engineer at the Japanese phone company, NTT Docomo, was inspired by weather forecasts that used symbols to represent the weather, street signs and Chinese characters, and symbols used to express emotions. From his creative mind, 180 emojis entered the Japanese market and became an immediate hit, causing a wildfire effect as it rapidly caught on globally.

Lost in Translation

So why are they so popular? Words on paper can be sterile things, but when dressed up with an emoji, it takes on a whole different meaning. Emojis can deflate a potentially rude or demanding text or email. Note the difference: “Come pick me up!” “Come pick me up! 😀 Which one comes across as less severe?

This new hieroglyphic type of communication also exists for sheer pleasure and fun. Can you translate the meaning of the following emoji sentences? (Answers are below):


  1. 🖐!🏊‍♂️🏖?
  2. 🎉🎊@🙋‍♀️🏠!🙌!
  3. 🐘X🛣? 🐾🐔


Men vs. Women

Interestingly, emojis have elicited a gender difference in usage –women embrace emojis more emphatically than men. In a recent study1, the following was noted:

“We find that there exist statistically significant differences between female and male users in emoji usage: (1) women are more likely to use emojis than men; (2) men and women have different preferences for emojis…(3) men, and women have different preferences in using emojis to express sentiments…”

Emoji Graph

Ten most used emojis by female and male users.

Emojis continue to evolve as they encounter new trends and technology. The big scandal here is that Apple  had a fling with "Have a Nice Day"  and along came Animoji!

 Chicken Animoji


  1. Hi! Want to go swimming at the beach?
  2. Party at my house! Woot! Woot!
  3. What happened when the elephant crossed the road? It stepped on the chicken!


Contributed by Angélica Mecham

  1. Through a Gender Lens: Learning Usage Patterns of Emojis from Large-Scale Android Users, Zhenpeng Chen, Xuan Lu, Wei Ai, Huoran Li, Qiaozhu Mei, Xuanzhe Liu,