Our phones are soon to be graced with 72 new emoji. There are several additions the internet has collectively been begging for: avocado is on its way to your keyboard, as is croissant, and selfie.
I’m hesitant to criticize any emoji release, because they are a total and complete blessing. Aside from the near-unnavigable sideways scroll of the emoji keyboard, I’m beyond happy to welcome more icons into the Unicode-approved universe existing on my iPhone. But more emoji also means more opportunity for confusion.
One of — if not the most — consistent problems with emoji is that they aren’t as translatable as one would imagine nonwords to be. A major purpose of emoji, obviously, is to act as a substitute for text, a unifying communication tool across languages. There are limitations to this — emoji probably shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not take Spanish in high school — but they are a helpful tool for mounting language obstacles.
Unless, of course, the images don’t mean the same thing to everyone. There have been misinterpretations of emoji before (see Disappointed but Relieved and Face With Look of Triumph — that’s really what those mean?!) and there will be again. Specifically, the following additions will certainly be the root of some confusing conversations.
Call Me Hand
This is clearly “Hang 10” or “Cowabunga,” and that is absolutely how this will be used. If you send this to someone to communicate you would like them to call you, they will be very confused and think you took up surfing. It’s fine, we’re just going to repurpose this one entirely.
The Dumpling emoji has been a much-requested addition to the catalog. And if you tell me this is a dumpling or there are other context clues in the message, I will probably understand. But this also looks very, very much like a shell.
Face With One Eyebrow Raised
Now, the Face With One Eyebrow Raised emoji is certainly that. But does anyone else feel like this rendition is half-assed compared with the rest of our yellow-hued expressions?
Several of the Stuffed Flatbread emoji actually look like stuffed flatbread. But the first rendition definitely looks like a tilted bowl of salad. If you send that to a friend as an attempt to suggest you hit up the corner gyro spot, expect no response or general apathy at getting yet another Panera salad for lunch.
This emoji is great and will be very useful; I just enjoy the phrase “shopping trolley.” Though, whichever operating system got stuck with that blue circle crap has my sympathies.
While there’s nothing confusing about any of these new sports emoji, a quick word: Why are emoji sports so Martha’s Vineyard? Water polo? Handball? Fencing? Thank God these can join the likes of golf, ice skating, and horse racing. It’s like a Hamptons-specific emoji set. The additions here are prompted by the upcoming Olympics, but aside from being WASPy as hell, they’re mostly male emoji (with the exception of the gymnast and arguably the fencer).
I don’t envy Unicode’s task of creating universal icons (actually, I really, really do), and misinterpretation is unavoidable. Let’s just prepare ourselves now for what will happen if Durex gets its way and the next emoji update includes a condom — there’s no way that’s not going to be confused by at least one person for a test tube.