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Science & Technology

Apple Unveils New Emoji Designs — Including T. Rex And A Zombie


When kids - and adults, for that matter - are plugged in, one communication tool they have is the emoji. And there's a new batch of emojis. Last week, Apple previewed some of its new designs. They included a T. rex and a zombie - no doubt extremely useful in a great many situations. There are also more specific symbols like a woman wearing a hijab and even a woman breastfeeding a baby. These new additions bring the approved emoji lexicon to more than 2,600. That's quite an increase from two years ago when there were around 700.

Jeremy Burge is here to talk about emojis. He's the founder of Emojipedia, an online reference for emoji meanings. Welcome to the program.

JEREMY BURGE: Thanks, Robert. Nice to be here.

SIEGEL: We're up to over 2,600 emojis now. Can you imagine a limit? Is there some critical emoji mass out there?

BURGE: I think we're struggling already, to be honest (laughter). It's quite hard to find them on your phone, right? When you look around there's so many there that until we get better ways to search for them, I think we're really at a critical point right now.

SIEGEL: And who's ultimately in charge? What is the academy of emojis who's deciding what's so legit?

BURGE: (Laughter) So it's called the Unicode Consortium. And it's made up of the major tech companies. It's Apple. It's Google. It's Microsoft. And because of the way they're implemented, they have to agree on them first. And when they agree on the list, then we get them on our phones a bit later on.

SIEGEL: I don't send emojis, but I inevitably receive them. They've become a staple of online communication. Why do you think that is? What's so compelling about emoji use?

BURGE: You know, at least for me personally, I find that there's a temptation to overuse punctuation. When you're dealing with people you don't know, you'll use exclamation marks to make it clear that you're being friendly. And emojis sort of work like an extended form of punctuation. We can really clarify whether we're trying to be funny or sincere with 2,000 symbols.

SIEGEL: Part of your job is to catalogue the meanings of emojis. Shouldn't that be self-evident? I mean, isn't an emoji failing if it doesn't obviously mean something right away?

BURGE: I would look at it on the flip side, that as long as there's understanding between two parties when an emoji's sent, it's done its job. When we look at a meaning of an emoji, we're not too concerned only by what it was originally intended to mean. We like to look at how people actually use it as well.

SIEGEL: Emojis evolving like language, right there, is what you're describing. What's an example of an emoji that has changed meanings?

BURGE: So there's a face called hugging face. And it looks like a little smiling face with two hands held out to the side. You can see them as palms there. But people use it as sort of an excited or jazz hands.

SIEGEL: It's not - it doesn't look like the scream, does it? It doesn't - it doesn't look like that, though.

BURGE: No, it's not like the scream. It looks very excited. It's got a big grin on its face and it's holding two hands out to the side. It doesn't convey a hug very well at all, in my opinion. So if everybody perceives it to be excited and happy to see you, then that's how it's going to be used.

SIEGEL: Now, you know, in the pre-digital era of the printed book, sometimes dictionaries would have to remove items that had gone out of usage. So far, has any emoji been retired for no longer being worth keeping in the lexicon?

BURGE: There isn't actually a way to remove an emoji - would you believe it? They're part of this Unicode Standard. And the key part of that standard is that once it's in, it's in forever.

SIEGEL: Well, Jeremy Burge, thanks for talking with us about it.

BURGE: Great. It's great to be here.

SIEGEL: Jeremy Burge is chief emoji officer and founder of Emojipedia.


JONATHAN MANN: (Singing) It doesn't matter who you are because everybody uses emojis. Everybody uses emojis.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Emojis are for all... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.