How language changes: an ode to emojis

When I was younger I greatly admired the British journalist Miles Kington, who was credited with the invention of Franglais, a made up language that combined French and English.

Yes, I know, Shakespeare had examples of it in his writing, Monty Python had a sketch using it…but Kington really was the grande fromage of them all, IMHO.

Vous gettez the drift générale. Franglais was absolument nonsense of course, and while it might have instilled de la confiance in the average Rosbif, armed with the mighty French O Level (grade C), it utterly confused any French person who read it.

So, I’d love to know what Kington would have made of emojis. Why? Because Saturday is world emoji day. 🙌 World emoji day – who knew it was ‘a thing’?

Actually, it’s more than 20 years since the very first tiny emotive characters appeared on Japanese mobile phones. There are now many thousands of them and they have gone mainstream, across cultures and languages, even leaping from casual use to the professional.

The first time I saw one at work was when an investor relations adviser wanted to include 😃😃😃 in a financial results press release. When I suggested that the company should stick to ‘tried and tested’ language rather than emojis, I was told in plain terms that I was clearly ‘quite old’ and ‘didn’t get’ what they were all about. 🤦

Actually, I believe Emojis are a vital part of linguistic evolution. Just as I don’t address my partner as ‘thou fair maiden yonder’ so too in our increasingly digital communications space we are always on the lookout for new ways to express ourselves, and emojis are ‘it’.

Emojis convey a very basic thing well…that emotional nuance which can alter the plain text in which they appear. And that’s a very good thing.

We all know that texting is a hopeless way of communicating emotion. Once, in the early stages of dating a new partner, I was temporarily dumped because my texts apparently did not convey enough interest. If only I’d used a ❤️, I could have avoided some, er, heartache.

Sarcasm is particularly difficult with texts too…because you don’t hear that cutting tone or, when you think it is there, you risk overreacting. A 🤷 or an 🙄 followed by a 🤣would convey so much more – the other person is slightly irritated, but 🆗.

That’s not to say emojis are always welcome. I’ve seen bullies use smileys at the end of an unpleasant work email, a sort of passive aggressive language that allows them to be really mean while hopefully stopping just short of what is required for a harassment lawsuit. 👨‍⚖️

All this means we expect more and more from emojis as we seek to avoid causing offence or a misunderstanding, something that remains as important now as it did in Shakespeare’s day. This means emojis will continue as vital linguistic tools. A digital lingua franca, if you like. I’m sure Miles Kington would have liked that one.

Photo by Denis Cherkashin on Unsplash

(By the way, I’m a professional storyteller and run Portman Communications, a content and reputation management company in Switzerland. We work for clients all over the world. If I can help with your content or communications needs, get in touch!)