I am an emoji scrooge. I’m very stingy with them, a real smiley miser. I groan when I see a string of them in a group chat. I send them only to my sister, mother, grandma and – in very, very extreme circumstances – a few other people. When a friend recently went through a sad break-up, I put my pride aside to send one – a single Hugging Face – and the fact I was bending my emoji ban just this once was noted and appreciated as recognition of the gravity of the situation.
If there’s one thing that I hate more than the overuse of emoji, however, it’s people thinking they’ve made the “next emoji”. I’m talking Animoji, Memoji, AR emoji. I know I sound like a fun sponge, but they’re truly the worst. Please just stop.
So imagine my Astonished Face when the Emoji Mashup Bot appeared in my Twitter feed earlier this week – a Twitter account that tweets out hybrid versions of emoji to create whole new versions of the little smiley faces. A cartoon alien with a halo! Dollar sign eyes and a head bandage. A face that’s both anguished and pensive. I laughed, I liked, I retweeted. I sent one to my sister. I noticed the account had more than 100,000 followers in a matter of days – now up to 134,000 and rising – and after a few more popped up in my feed, I followed it. Was I now… a person who likes emojis? Face Screaming In Fear.
My new favourite bot is the work of 18-year-old student Louan Bengmah. Launched on July 16, it takes two emoji from a list, chops them up into four segments – base, eyes, mouth and detail – then mashes them together to make a new emoji. “Grimacing + hot” became a modern classic for me in the European heatwave this week, and you can’t deny that “smirk + licking lips” is sleazy genius. “Sad cat + crazy” should have its own show.
The bot has rules for if one emoji has a non-regular base, one emoji is a cowboy or clown and so on, and once the account passed 100K, an update was added to throw in the possibility of a detail from a third emoji. An ogre with squinting eyes and an umbrella, say. Currently the account produces a tweet every hour.
Scroll through the results and you’ll see that young Bengmah has done the impossible. He’s made the next emoji. They’re just better. The mash-ups are surprising and delightful and whimsical. The simple act of combining two emoji – which, by the way, could not be more different from putting two of them in a row – also makes them much saltier and spicier. They can communicate more complicated, nuanced emotions. Regular emoji is for children, the Emoji Mashup Bot is for adults. We need to get Bengmah in front of the Unicode Consortium stat.
Still, my newfound affection for emoji, even these snarky, suitably alternative emoji, threw me. I wasn’t just waiting for new ones to pop up in my feed, I was actively typing it into my Tweetdeck search bar. Intending to interrogate my own feelings on the round yellow faces, I flipped to the index of my colleague Victoria Turk’s book Digital Etiquette to the emoji entry. Researchers told her that we use facial emoji – the type I take issue with using – to clarify the tone of what we’re typing, since we can’t use facial expressions and body language to do the job.
Maybe that’s my problem: my IRL facial expressions tend to default to a mashup of Eeyore and the character of Sadness from Inside Out, no matter how happy I am, so perhaps this explains why I’m loathe to try to convey them through strings of yellow smileys. I’m probably not smiling. If I find something funny, I laugh then go back to looking grumpy.
Then again, when I find something really funny, I do sometimes laugh so much I cry – but while the Face With Tears Of Joy emoji is one of the most commonly used, I never send it. So I guess my logic falls down there.
What my fondness for the Emoji Mashup Bot’s creations tells me is that I don’t really hate the form of emoji or how people deploy them in chats and messages. It’s the blandness and the childishness that I despise. I’m a snob who has never felt fully represented by emoji until now. I’m the kind of person who thinks real art has to be both tragic and comic. I, Sophie Charara, complex being, cannot be reduced to a single emotion at any one given point in time.
That’s why I feel seen by the Emoji Mashup Bot’s ‘partying + angry =’ emoji in a way I never have before. If someone WhatsApps me on the day of my birthday and asks how I’m feeling, ‘partying + angry’ will perfectly express it, and I would be happy to send it. No words required. Just a round yellow face.
What I’m really trying to say is this: the Emoji Mashup Bot is funny.