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'World Emoji Day' Is A Global Celebration For A Reason

World Emoji Day celebrates emoji as a universal form of communication.
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jul 17, 2018

Love 'em or hate 'em, more than 90 percent of people online use emoji, and the reach of the digital characters is even overtaking the scope of English. That makes emoji one of the world's most universal forms of communication, and World Emoji Day is here to celebrate that.

Today, there are more than 2,800 emoji you can use to express your plethora of emotions. But like words and phrases in any other language, many emoji can take on connotations beyond what they literally represent. 

Take the peach emoji. In a sample of 571 tweets using the character, Emojipedia found that just 7 percent referenced the actual fruit. 

We'll let you guess what the other uses were for, and that should be enough to show how easily the meanings of emoji can be misconstrued.

Across the world, cultural connotations and interpretations of emoji can get even fuzzier. In mainland China, the "waving hand" emoji can be interpreted as breaking off a friendship. And in Nigeria, as well as some countries in the Middle East, the "thumbs-up" emoji can be interpreted as an obscene gesture.

But going beyond the interpretations of emoji, it's worth noting that many characters are cultural interpretations themselves — and they can vary from platform to platform.

To explain, let's look at the emoji variations of a dish common to many different cultures: dumplings.

See, not every dumpling emoji follows the same form. Some variations look more like traditional Chinese steamed or even soup dumplings, while others can be interpreted as Japanese gyoza, Polish pierogis or Spanish empanadas.

Ironically enough, the artist behind the dumpling emoji strived to make sure the design was cross-cultural and ambiguous. But companies have the ability to interpret and change the designs as they see fit — that's why emoji aren't the same across different devices, apps or social media sites.

This is the case for a lot of new emoji, dozens of which are approved and released by the Unicode Consortium every year. Over time, this will likely feel pretty overwhelming. But then again, no one ever said developing a new form of communication would be easy.