Science, Tech & Environment

The quest to create the first dumpling emoji

This week on the World in Words podcast it's all about emojis! (Though this blog post does not have them because emojis make our CMS angry!)

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The word "emoji" comes from Japanese and these little pictures began showing up on Japanese phones in the late ‘90s. Little by little these cutesy graphics wormed their way into the hearts and phones of people around the globe.  And they have become so much a part of the way that we now communicate that this year the Oxford English Dictionary declared “Face with tears of joy” as the word of the year.


Yiying Lu

Recently writer Jennifer 8 Lee was frying up some dumplings and texting with her friend Yiying Lu when they realized that there was no dumpling emoji. There was taco and pizza and even sushi but there wasn’t a dumpling to be found.

Furthermore there wasn’t an emoji for chopsticks. So Lee and Lu took it upon themselves to fix this glaring issue and they started a Kickstarter campaign to make the dumpling official. 

Yiying Lu is a designer and Creative Director at 500 Startups — she’s famous for designing the Twitter Fail Whale — and she has mocked up a version of the dumpling emoji they hope to make official.

Their journey to creating an official emoji took them to a mysterious organization called the Unicode Consortium. The Unicode Consortium was founded in the late 1980s to unify the computer code for alphabets and other scripts, making it possible for computers to talk with one another and recognize every kind of text, symbol, or glyph.

It's almost like the universal code beneath every language...a lingua franca for computers you could say. And the group takes their role rather seriously.

Emojis where initially ignored by the Unicode Consortium as a passing trend. However, it soon became clear that they were not going away and there needed to be a unified way for different phones, computers, web platforms to use them. The Unicode Consortium stepped in to unify the little pictures and gradually add to the emoji alphabet. 

The emojis presented the Unicode Consortium with a new problem: How do you manage a potentially endless set of characters? What deserves to be an emoji? How do you represent an object for the world?


00:40 NEH accent quiz. Find out the answer to last week’s quiz.

1:43 Kanye West’s New Year’s track, “FACTS” and Kimojis

2:56 The word emoji comes from Japanese

3:37 The Oxford English Dictionary declared “Face with tears of joy” as its word of 2015.

4:07 Dumplings may be one of the most ubiquitous foods around the world BUT there’s no dumpling emoji

4:22 Jenny 8 Lee and Yiying Lu started a Kickstarter campaign to make the emoji dumpling official

5:18 What does it mean to be an “official emoji” 

6:00  The Unicode Consortium: What is it? What does it do?

7:51 How did the Unicode Consortium become responsible for encoding and deciding upon new emojis?

9:49 Jenny joined the Unicode Consortium as a non-voting member for $75 and started attending meetings

10:49 Who attends the Unicode meetings?

12:00 The peach and the eggplant emojis

13:35 Emojis may seem frivolous but the Unicode Technical Committee (the group that deals with emojis) will have lengthy discussions about how to represent even the simplest things like milk or pancakes.

14:49 How to represent bean?

15:45 All the emoji talk may seem trivial but it makes Jenny think about another visual language in which she’s fluent, Chinese

16:40 The problematic female emojis

18:05 Jenny and Yiying have submitted proposals for four emojis: dumpling, chopsticks, fortune cookie and takeout box

20:26 Meet Mark Davis, a co-chair of the Emoji Subcommittee and one of the founding members of the Unicode Consortium

21:21 Skin tone

22:28 The stories behind the smiling poop and middle finger emojis

24:05 The “identity issue”

25:00 Face with the look of triumph and Sleepy Face

26:15 These aren’t really languages says Mark Davis

28:15 You can adopt an emoji

28:39 NEH accent quiz for next week