Emoji is a small digital image or icon used in electronic communication. It is also mentioned as a standardized emoticon (emotion + icon) but emojis are usually depicted as pictographs and emoticons are depicted as characters.

Etymology of emoji:

From Japanese 絵文字 emoji (emoji, emoticon), from 絵 e (picture) + 文字 moji (character) [Wiktionary]

Wikipedia mentions the creation year of the first emoji:

The first emoji was created in 1998 or 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita, who was part of the team working on NTT DoCoMo's i-mode mobile internet platform.

But I'm asking when the term "emoji" first used in English language? When it entered technical jargon, did it enter English also? Or did it enter after it was used in Japan for a while?

  • One thing that is happening with the word emoji is that it was borrowed as a fixed noun no matter the number: it didn’t inflect by adding an ‑s to make it plural. But as non-technical people catch hold of it, they create the same sort of double-plural as seen in ?paninis and ?graffitis, and produce the questionable form ?emojis as a plural.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 6:06
  • 3
    @tchrist Except here it's not a double plural, since emoji itself is simply unspecified for number, unlike panini and graffiti who both have singulars in -o. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 10:27
  • 2
    Funny, I never knew emoji was a full-blown Japanese word. I've always associated the ji with Japanese 字, but I'd always just assumed it was emo(tive) ji (characters), sort of like emoticon. Interesting. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


The OED has the first use in English of the word emoji in 1997, but I found use of the word in the Latin alphabet in 1991.

Here's part of a 1991 comp.human-factors Usenet post by Don Norman (author of The Design of Everyday Things):

But who is Yukio Ota?

The University of california library lists:
1. Japanese signs / Yukio Ota, Osami Sakano, Miwako Ito [editor in charge].
Tokyo : Process Architecture Pub. Co., 1983.
2. Ota, Yukio.
History of ancient China / Ota Yukio, Utsugi Akira, Hori Toshikazu. Tokyo
: Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies. 1974.
3. Ota, Yukio, 1939-
Pictogram design / Yukio Ota = Pikutoguramu "emoji" dezain
Shohan. Tokyo, Japan : Kashiwashobo, 1987.

(The references are only at UCLA and Berkeley, so I can't look at them.)

Tell us more.

Here's the book title at WorldCat:

Pictogram design / Yukio Ota = ピクトグラム「絵文字」デザイン /
Pictogram design / Yukio Ota = Pikutoguramu "emoji" dezain
Author: 太田幸夫, 1939- 太田幸夫. 太田幸夫, ; Yukio Ōta
Publisher: 柏書房, Tokyo, Japan : Kashiwashobo, 1987.
Edition/Format: Book : English : Shohan

It looks like Pikutoguramu "emoji" dezain in the title is just a Latinised version of ピクトグラム「絵文字」デザイン /, the English being "Pictogram design". But it may be worth checking the book as it seems to be in English.

And I'm not sure if listing a book title in an English 1991 Usenet post counts as use in English, but it shows the term was in use at least in 1991 (and possibly back to 1987).

  • I've sent this to the OED.
    – Hugo
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 17:49
  • I'm not sure I would count a transliteration of a foreign phrase as a use in English.
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 19:32
  • I thought emoji was a combination of katakana and kanji scripts based on emoticon. Here is what I mean: emo, romanized katakana meaning emotion as in emotion in emoticon (emotion + icon), and kanji character ji which means letter or character. So, emoji, as I assumed, is emo + ji where emo (katakana) and ji (kanji). I am surprised to learn e in emoji is: e + moji (picture + character). When it is interpreted this way, where is the emotion in emoji?
    – user142447
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 1:29
  • What do you mean by "romanized katakana meaning emotion"? Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 2:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.