What the %!@* are emojis?!

Automatically, when you read that title I am sure you filled in %!@* with your own thoughts, but what I really meant was “heck”. It is interesting to see how we have programmed our brains into reading symbols.

What the heck are emojis, and how do they fit into this medieval history class? Well, in the next 400 words or so,  I hope to bring some insight into this thought.

For me, transcribing my manuscript was extremely difficult. What I found even more frustrating was that we have endless resources online that could have assisted me (such as Latin abbreviations, alphabets and even guides on how manuscripts were written). Even with this resources, I was at a loss because I was not even sure what I was searching for. This got me thinking about emojis, and the language that we use every day. Are we documenting the meanings that we transcribe to emojis, and is that information even important enough for someone to consider documenting?

Let’s play a game. Take a look at these emojis and in the comments, leave your guesses to what movies you think that have been described in these emoji scenes. For us, this might be easy (or not). Imagine, however, in a hundred years (or longer), someone else trying to transcribe the meaning of the emojis. We have given emojis new meanings (the peach, and eggplant are just two examples of emojis that have new innuendos – not in this image, but in the context of texting now).

For example, the first one is the movie “Sex and the City” Image from: https://www.memecenter.com/fun/3287083/guess-the-emoji-movie

This is important to consider because our use of language reveals how our society reflects language. I would argue that we do not value language as much as those in medieval times did (or so I think that they did). We tend to skip words, ignore punctuation and add in images as often as we can. We limit ourselves to 240 characters or an Instagram caption. I do not think that we master linguists (honestly, I have no idea if linguists is a word and I think that proves my point), have decided that we can get our point across in as few words as possible, but rather I think we have become – lazy.

Emojis, can do the work for us. Just as abbreviations did the work for the monks who transcribed manuscript on manuscript. I think, their abbreviations were justified as they were probably sore from writing for hours as a day, versus us, taking one minutes (probably less) to send out a tweet.  It is important for us to examine how we use language in relation to how medieval manuscript transcribers used language. When we make parallels in our work, we will soon begin to understand their work better. I do not think that we are going to be finding any emojis in manuscripts any time soon, however, perhaps the emoji is the modern abbreviation (even more advanced than lol or rofl).

For your enjoyment, I have included a few emoji idioms to see if we can decipher what they say… Now we know how students in 3018 will feel deciphering our texts (if we live past clime change of course).

First one, “Hot Potato” Image from: https://www.sporcle.com/games/chaosBEE/idiom-emoji

2 Replies to “What the %!@* are emojis?!”

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of emoji/shortened communication being equated to laziness. I’d argue, instead, that they’re efficient, much in the same way abbreviations were for the medieval scribes we’re studying.

    One of the problems I think that we have as historians is either over- or under-identifying with the populations we study. Either we see the problems of the past as identical to ours, which ignores the context (ink vs. computer keyboards are very different media) or we see the past as a different country entirely, often uplifting the ‘old times’ in contrast to our current, “lazy” generation. It’s interesting watching this unfold with the discussion around emojis, memes and textspeak – it’s hard to objectively analyze the differences and similarities when it comes to the things we use every day.

    I definitely agree that our use of language reflects how we view it; however, a crucial point is that in our current modern culture, the lines between written and spoken language have blurred considerably. Scarcity does not necessarily equate value, and if our entire society stopped writing today, everything would collapse!

    I look forward to studying manuscript abbreviations further. (Maybe we’ll find an emoji in one of them. Who knows?)

  2. When I was trying to decode the text on my folio, I noticed that there were quite a few abbreviations (sometimes whole words missing), so I understand what you mean by language reflecting the society that uses it. Saving space was important when the writing supports being used were so expensive, but today I wonder why we can’t take the time to say what we mean clearly.
    Maybe I missed the boat with emoji, because I only ever use the occasional smiley or tongue-sticking smiley, but I don’t think the use of them is necessarily laziness. There can be a lot of witty and creative ways to use emojis to elicit different meanings (like with the list of movies above; #7 is absolutely Life of Pi!), but I can see how using less verbose language can lead to a loss of literacy.
    As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it”, and the demographic for full literacy has been decreasing ever since the inter-war period…

    Maybe for the historians of the future, we can leave some sort of bread crumb trail for all these cultural usages of pictograms? I sympathize with the amount of work they will have to contend with, in this digital era. Or maybe we’re just headed to an era of simplification/harmonization? Because emojis, at their base meanings, are fairly universal, compared to specific regional alphabets: a ‘cat’ in China is still just a cat.

    The idioms were pretty interesting too, and I understood more of them than I thought I would!

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