Where Emoji Come From

Season 1 • Episode 13

Each year, the powers that be endow our phones with about 70 new emoji. For 2022, you’ll be getting a mirror ball, a crutch, an X-ray, coral, a ring buoy, and a bird’s nest—with or without eggs in it. 

But who ARE the powers that be? Why do they add the emoji they add? Why do we have a blowfish but not a catfish? Why do we have police car, police officer, and judge, but not handcuffs, jail, or prison? 

In this hilarious episode, you’ll meet the shadowy figures who choose which symbols get added to the permanent set each year. You’ll hear about the Apple bagel disaster, the Android cheeseburger kerfluffle, and the floating beer-foam episode. And you’ll meet the 15-year-old whose emoji campaign changed the world—and probably got her into Stanford. 

Guests: Jennifer Daniel, director of emoji at Google; head of emoji for the Unicode Consortium, Mark Davis, cofounder and president, Unicode Consortium, Rayouf Alhumedi, creator of the hijab emoji

Episode transcript


Emoji are those tiny, colorful pictures we use to liven up our text messages and social-media posts. Every year, our phone keyboards gain 70 new emoji options. For 2022, we’ll be getting a mirror ball, a crutch, an X-ray, coral, a ring buoy, and a bird’s nest with or without eggs in it.

But where do they come from? Who decides which new symbols become part of the permanent gallery?

POGUE:     As I understand it, you are in charge of all the emoji on every Android phone, every Google device. You don’t lie there rigid and perspiring (LAUGH) at night?

DANIEL:   Oh, I do. (LAUGH) Every night. (LAUGH)

I’m David Pogue, and this is “Unsung Science.”


Season 1, Episode 13…There are only two more episodes of “Unsung Science” after this one—so if you have any interest in persuading the big bosses to green-light a Season 2, now would be a good time to leave a review on Apple Podcasts, or give this podcast a rating on Spotify. And to spread the word about your new favorite science and tech podcast.  

Anyway: Episode 13: Where Emoji Come From. I mean, obviously, you know where emoji come from—on your phone. You tap that little smiley face key on your phone’s keyboard, usually right next to the Space bar. And boom: There are the scrolling screens full of 3,000 tiny, typable pictures—faces, things, animals, flags, and symbols…All ready to drop into whatever you’re typing, to add a little visual nuance or tone to your text message or tweet.

DANIEL: They fill in the gaps that body language or eye contact or volume are lost when you’re speaking in the immediacy of digital communication.

Jennifer Daniel is a creative director for Google—well, she’s actually a bigger deal than that. She’s in charge of all emoji on all Google software products, including the world’s 2.5 billion Android phones.

She’s not just in charge; she and her very small team actually draw the emoji. On a laptop, in Adobe Illustrator.

POGUE: As I understand it, you are in charge of all the emoji on every Android phone, every Google device. It’s you.

DANIEL: I do… dabble.

POGUE: Because by that calculation, that makes you one of the most viewed artists alive.


POGUE: Billions of people a day look at your stuff!

DANIEL: Too much– too much pressure. (LAUGH) Too much pressure.  

POGUE: You don’t lie there rigid and perspiring (LAUGH) at night?

DANIEL: Oh, I do. (LAUGH) Every night. (LAUGH) Should the nose have been pink or brown? Or the rope, well, should it have been a box knot or a different type of knot? Yeah, there’s a little bit of that.

People who use emoji use them quite a bit. As a species, we send about 10 billion emoji a day. Insert your own joke here about — “and that’s just my 12-year-old!”

Emoji show up on signs, in ads, and in academic studies. One guy rewrote “Moby Dick” entirely in emoji. Called—what else?—“Emoji Dick.”

In 2017, there was even a truly awful emoji movie… called “The Emoji Movie.”

Movie clip.

But mostly, we use emoji to accompany our typed communication online—our texts, our social-media posts.

We use them to add a little hint of emotion to our written expressions, although the Japanese word emoji has nothing to do with the word emotion. That emo prefix is just a coincidence; emoji means “picture writing.”

POGUE: If I send an emoji, that can compensate for the loss of facial expression?

DANIEL: I would say that it compensates for intent.   a lot of emojis are about how you feel and less necessarily how you look.  It’s, like, they’re up for interpretation. And so people who text me probably understand how I use emoji that might not be universal.  I use the cactus emoji all the time when I’m in a mood.

POGUE: When would you use the cactus emoji?

DANIEL: When I’m on my period. Or when I’m just, like, in a bad mood. (LAUGH)

POGUE: So it means, you know, “I’m prickly—leave me alone?”

DANIEL: Yeah. Like, oh, I’m having a bad day: cactus.  It’s like, “I’m the problem, actually.” (LAUGH) Like, “I feel a bit prickly.”

POGUE: I started out using it to take the sting off a textual response that could be taken the wrong way. Like, “That’s fine.” You know, like, that could be– “That’s fine.” Or, “that’s fine!”

DANIEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

POGUE: a little smiley makes it clear.

DANIEL: Yeah, you can be as passive aggressive as you want. (LAUGHTER) It is– it’s true. 

In the beginning, there weren’t three thousand emoji to choose from; there were 90.The first phone with a full set of symbols was the DP-211 SW, a fugly1997 phone with a gray LCD screen. You could send any of 90 those symbols—to anyone else who had a DP-211 SW. 

Many of them are still with us today, including the heart, the surfer, the coffee cup, the 12 clock faces showing different hours, and, of course, the smiling pile of poop.

They weren’t what you’d call photorealistic. The designers had only a 12 by 12 grid of pixels to work with, and no color.

Two years later, interface designer Shigetaka Kurita drew another set for NTT DoCoMo’s first cellular Internet service. 176 emoji, this time in color. They became more famous and more widely used; in fact, they’re in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection.

But those early emoji sets were incompatible. You couldn’t send a smiling poop from your J-Phone phone and expect it to show up on a DoCoMo phone.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the computer world, the big tech companies were battling a similar incompatibility problem of their own.

DAVIS: I’m sure you remember back in the early ‘90s, you’d get a message from someone, and it’d be bunny rabbits and squares and weird symbols and stuff like that—

POGUE: Yeah.

DAVIS: That was– that was that problem. So if I sent you a message on a Mac,   I would’ve sent you a curly quote, for example, and you would’ve gotten a curly quote on your Mac.

POGUE: But if I had Windows?

DAVIS: Then you’d get some random character.

POGUE: So you guys have solved that problem?

DAVIS: Well, solved. Yes. (LAUGHTER) I mean, it’s solved as far as the– the main languages in the world. 

POGUE: So I can send a message using any letters of my alphabet, or Hebrew, or Arabic–to anyone using any kind of computer, and it’ll show up the right way?

DAVIS: Any modern computer. Yeah, yeah.

That’s Mark Davis. He solved the Tower of Babel problem among operating systems by founding the Unicode Consortium in 1991.

It’s a nonprofit group made up of reps from Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and so on. For 30 years, they’ve been getting together to agree on standards, so that a curly quote on my computer won’t show up as a random little box on yours. And for 30 years, Mark Davis has been the president.

DAVIS: So all of the math symbols that you would use, and punctuation, and all of that, is all on Unicode. And around 2000, we got the first proposal for adding emoji to Unicode. 

By this time, there were three different emoji sets from Japan. The Unicode Consortium agreed to combine them to form one, new, global, universal standard.

Now, Mark Davis is clearly the most powerful emoji man on earth. He’s the head of the organization that chooses which new symbols will appear as options on our billions of phones and computers each year. 

So this was my chance to get to the crux of my quest: To find out where new emoji come from.

DAVIS: Originally, we took these characters out of Japan.  But then what we decided to do is open up the process, so that instead of just Apple and Google and other companies deciding all by themselves what the new emoji would be, that anybody could file a proposal. So–

POGUE: The public?

DAVIS: Yeah. You.  

It’s true! All you have to do is fill in a form on the Unicode website, and write a proposal, arguing why your new emoji should become part of the permanent, global, ever-evolving set.

DAVIS: Give us some information to justify that it’s likely to be reasonably popular. What we don’t wanna do is add a new character that nobody uses. The number of emoji are limited. 

POGUE: Why are they limited?

DAVIS: They’re limited because the cost of emoji is surprisingly high. If you think of the fact that every time we add one of these, it’s multiplied by the– how many cell phones are there in the world (LAUGH) now?

POGUE: Billions.

DAVIS: And so there’s constructing the fonts, doing the designs, making sure s– everything’s consistent, and input. Input, it’s very frustrating for people to have to flip back to get all– through all the emoji. And the bigger the list gets, the harder it is to find them.

Now, keep in mind that each year, the Consortium gets thousands of proposals from the public—but only about 70 new emoji a year make the cut.

So don’t even bother proposing an emoji in one of the forbidden categories.

DAVIS: Then there are some exclusion factors.  

POGUE: No specific people?

DAVIS: No specific people– living or dead. We exclude deities. We exclude logos. We exclude also emoji that are designed to have a particular appearance that is associated with a company.  

We don’t want it to be transient. So once a character goes into Unicode, it’s there forever. So you and I will be dust, (LAUGH) okay, and it’s still gonna stick around. So it’ll be in computers into the indefinite future.

POGUE: Wow. Okay, so–so no fads.

DAVIS: No fads.

POGUE: No pet rocks.

DAVIS: Yeah. And even if we allowed specific people, we’d say, “Well, Justin Bieber, maybe (LAUGH) it’s– maybe it’s a fad.”

POGUE: He– he’s– he’s violation on two counts.

DAVIS: On two counts.

POGUE: Transient and a specific person. And a deity!

Then, you’ve got to show what the new emoji would look like. And it’s got to be legible at tiny sizes.

DAVIS: For example, we got a proposal for flaxseed. And aside from whether people are going to be busily sending SMSs with flaxseed in them, (LAUGHTER) the whole issue is, how do I tell it’s flaxseed, and not, you know, little dots?

POGUE: (LAUGH) Right, right, right. Are there any good stories of some citizen not working for a computer company, who had an idea, and now that’s an actual emoji?

DAVIS: Sure. One of my favorites is the hijab emoji. And this is a young student in Berlin, originally from Saudi Arabia. 

RAYOUF: The reason I wear the hijab is different to many others. But I– the consensus is to get closer to God, to feel closer to Him. And I think it’s also– a form of modesty that a lot of people feel empowered in, including me. 

Rayouf Alhumediwas 15 years old when she discovered a big hole in the emoji set: There was no hijab, the head covering worn byhundreds of millions of Muslim women around the world. 

RAYOUF: I mean yeah, I’ve been using emojis for as– you know, I got my first phone, I think I was 12, 13.   But I never really looked at them as– at a point of representation until the conversation with my friends on the group chat. 

She was texting two friends in WhatsApp. Just for fun, they decided to represent themselves using emoji in the name of the group chat. 

RAYOUF: And we were creating a group chat name for one another with different emojis as our– as how we looked like. And I couldn’t find a hijab emoji. 

She wound up cobbling together a kind of an equation that implied that she was wearing a hijab: a turban, next to intertwined arrows, next to a girl. But it struck her as a little goofy that the existing emoji set included two different camels, four different mailboxes—but no hijab.

POGUE: But at that point, you didn’t yet know that mere citizens are allowed to propose emoji.

RAYOUF: Not at all. The idea of, you know, being a creator of an emoji   did not pass my mind until I read a Mashable post on Snapchat.  And the opening page was, “You wanna create your own emoji? Here’s how.” 

POGUE: All right, so what was the process of making this proposal?

RAYOUF: I spent around three to four days in my room, you know, curating the perfect proposal for the folks at Unicode Consortium, while my parents thought I was– typing away a lab report or something. (LAUGHTER)

POGUE: Wow. And so eventually, you heard back, at some point, that, “Congratulations, your emoji proposal is accepted, and it’s going to be on billions of phones around the world.” Do you remember that moment?

RAYOUF: I like– I didn’t know what to do with myself, exactly.  But slowly, I think after it was released officially, I saw it pop up randomly in places that I wouldn’t expect, like celebrities would be using it, or just even on– just generally on Instagram.

And then I– have this moment in my head, like, “Whoo. I– I– I did that. That’s– that’s insane.” Especially that it’s something no one thinks about. Like, when they click an emoji, no one thinks, “Oh– wait, that’s who– did this.” 

Now, any organization that calls itself a consortium is, of course, going to have…subcommittees. And there is an emoji subcommittee. And Jennifer Daniel of Google is now in charge of it.

Once she, the subcommittee, and the consortium have approved a new symbol for admission to the standard set, that’s not the end of it. Believe it or not, there isn’t one standard hijab emoji, or one standard eggplant emoji. Each tech company has its own staff of artists, and its own house style for the artwork itself. 

POGUE: How would you characterize them? What’s Google’s?

DANIEL: Well, we’re cute, (LAUGH) humble. I would say cute and simple. We tried not to show off with lots of detail. It really is supposed to be as simple as possible.  

POGUE: Okay. And how about some of other companies?

DANIEL: So Apple tends to rely more on, like– high resolution, fancier, more– more detail. It shows off the retina screens on their phones, (LAUGH) right? It really sells the hardware.   It is a real– it’s a real object that you can touch. 

Microsoft is flat, very flat. And they have this,  like, big black outline around them.

Twitter’s great. Twitter has a really interesting font. It’s really simple, much more simple than Google’s actually. 

Even Rayouf’s hijab emoji is different on each kind of phone.

RAYOUF: I remember– working on the tiny details, like what color the hijab should be. Should it be beige to keep it neutral and, you know, have the vendors think of how it should look like? Or like– a dark blue just for contrast?

POGUE: And what did you choose?

RAYOUF: A dark blue for contrast. (LAUGHTER)

POGUE: Yeah, the one in my iPhone is– is it purple or–?

RAYOUF: It’s purple, yeah. Apple decided to make it purple, which I personally really like, because it– it’s– adds a   different– color palette to the emojis, especially since the turban emoji’s white, it’s cool to have a different color.  


So yeah. The public makes proposals; the Unicode Consortium members vote on which ones should make the cut; and then the individual tech companies draw them. That’s how it works—in theory.

But what happens if two companies draw the same emoji in different ways—like the time Apple’s emoji for “pistol” was a squirt gun, but Google’s was a real handgun? What happens when the emoji doesn’t reflect equality or diversity? What happens when the public objects to the implications of the way a character is drawn?

And how long will it be before we can design emoji that look exactly like ourselves? 

My guests and I will answer all of the above—after the break.


Welcome back! Before the break, I was describing how each tech company is invited to draw its own version of each emoji.There’s this fantastic website called Emojipedia.org, where you can look at the various companies’ emoji styles side-by-side. 

For many years, some of them looked incredibly different. Apple’s emoji for cookie is very obviously a chocolate-chip cookie: Round, brown, with chocolate chips. But until 2018, Samsung’s cookie emoji was a pair of square saltine crackers.

Sometimes, the different interpretations led to some amusing message confusion—or not so amusing. 

In 2016, following a series of police shootings, Apple changed the illustration for its pistol emoji from a standard handgun to—a plastic squirt gun. You might have texted someone, “There’s only one way we’re gonna solve this. Show up tomorrow at the dock. Bring your—squirt gun emoji.”

But if they had an Android phone, what they’d get was: “Bring your—actual, bullet-firing, revolver emoji.” Which you could argue is a very different meaning.

Mark Davis says that the other tech companies were forced to follow suit, if only to avoid having some playground fun turn into gangland slayings.

DAVIS: If you’re using any modern Google phone, then you’ll see also a squirt gun.  

POGUE: So they’ve all become squirt guns?

DAVIS: And they’ve all become squirt guns, yeah.

POGUE: So the– the squirt gun example, was that sort of a political statement? An anti-gun statement that– that Apple was making?

DAVIS: I can’t speak for Apple on that.

POGUE: Well, Google followed suit–

DAVIS: Google followed suit, but the primary reason why we followed suit is to avoid incompatibility.  

These days, the tech companies’ art departments don’t go rogue like that anymore. The Consortium tries to keep their emoji drawings a little more harmonized.

That doesn’t mean there’s not still conflict, though.

POGUE: Is there such thing as pushback, controversy?

DANIEL: Oh, of course.

POGUE: Is there hate?

DANIEL: Oh, people hate emoji. Of course, they do. Everyone h– loves and hates everything. I mean, come on. (LAUGH) Go on the internet. You know, everyone’s angry about something.

POGUE: Well, has anyone ever been angry about something that you did?

DANIEL: Probably right now while we’re talking there’s someone angry at me right now. (LAUGH)

POGUE: Like what? 

DANIEL: I don’t know. I removed an egg from the salad.

POGUE: Oh, tell me the vegan egg story. Go. (LAUGH) This is my favorite story. 

DANIEL: Well,   you can file bugs against emoji, right?   you can send a complaint and say, “This isn’t working. Please fix it.” So people send that for emoji all the time.


DANIEL: So I collected all of those complaints. And I read them.  For salad, someone pointed out that the standard description for salad was, “a leafy bowl of greens containing tomato and lettuce.”

And they pointed out that every salad on all the other phones were leafy greens with tomatoes. But ours had an egg, and that we should remove it to be consistent. And I was like,   “Well, let’s try to opt for consistency.” Well, that did not go as planned. (LAUGH)

POGUE: What do you mean? (LAUGH)  

DANIEL: People were really upset about the egg (LAUGH) removal. People have strong opinions about salads. (LAUGH)

POGUE: It’s an emoji, people.

DANIEL: Yeah, yeah. It’s like our bagel. Remember when Apple rolled out their bagel emoji?

POGUE: With no cream–

DANIEL: It was untoasted.

POGUE: –cheese.

DANIEL: No cream cheese. It was, like, no one had been to New York before. It was ridiculous. (LAUGH) And they toasted it. They put a little schmear on there. Now it’s authentic.

POGUE: So they fixed it.


POGUE: And– and what’d you do about the salad kerfuffle?

DANIEL: Oh, there’s no egg.  

POGUE: So the egg went away. And the haters just had to deal with it.


Then there was the Great Burger Scandal of 2017, in which it was discovered that Google had drawn the cheese under the burger patty. Come on, Google. Who does that!? I mean, it’d get the bun all gross!

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai had to get involved. He tweeted, “Will drop everything else we are doing and address on Monday.”

think he was kidding, because he did include a smiley in his tweet. Not an emoji, but an emoticon—the old style, where you type a colon followed by a parenthesis, so if you turn your head sideways it looks like a smiling face.

Mark Davis still remembers the day.

DAVIS: Actually, I loved that. I loved his response to that. And I love the fact that I think afterwards, there was one of our cafés at Google (LAUGH) served a version of the hamburger with the cheese on the bottom. (LAUGH) They called it, I think, the Android Hamburger or something like that.

From his point of view, though, the real crisis was the Beer-Mug Episode of 2017.

DAVIS: Even more embarrassingly, nobody noticed the problem with the beer mugs. You ever seen what the old beer mugs were?


DAVIS: Well, they had a beer mug and they had the foam on the top. But the foam was kind of sitting on air. (LAUGH) There was no beer in there. 

Google fixed that one in Android 8.1—and shortly thereafter, hired Jennifer Daniel.

She and the Unicode Consortium quickly became aware of some other problems with the standard emoji set, especially when it came to social representation. For example, every emoji had the same color skin: yellow. 

DAVIS: Well, remember, this came out of Japan and the first images were– targeted to the Japanese market.   the images were also people with very light skin.   ideally, the people should’ve been all represented with an– unnatural color like a Homer Simpson or John Boehner color. (LAUGH) So it was– at that point, what we had to do was we had to look at how to address the system. 

What they came up with was a way to choose any of five skin tones for every single emoji that depicts a person. You hold your finger down on the symbol, and a little menu of skin colors pops up.

DAVIS: It wasn’t as simple as adding more emoji. What we wanted to do was add a mechanism so that we could handle all skin tones over all the existing characters and into the future.  

So you can combine a character with a skin color. So you can say, well, I want a runner and   I want her to have a dark skin color.  

POGUE: How many skin tone options do we have now?

DAVIS: Well, there’s the– the generic “no skin tone,” which is kind of orange, yellow orange-ish. And then you have– five other tones. So you have, you know, very light, medium, dark, and then in– in between.

The skin-tone menu appeared in 2015, but the standard emoji still weren’t a paragon of equity. This 2016 Stephen Colbert monologue made the point nicely:

Colbert: Let me show you how uneven it is. If you’re a man in the world of emoji, you can be a police officer, a British palace guard, a Santa with a weird flesh beard, a private investigator, a, I wanna say, bike helmet salesperson, a swami, a construction worker who also sells pot, and the saxophone player for Stay Human.

That was a visual joke. The mustachioe’d emoji he showed kind of resembles the sax player for Colbert’s own house band.

COLBERT: Now, on the female side, you could be a, let’s see, a princess bride, a princess, a flamenco dancer, or the two slices of bread in a Hugh Hefner sandwich.

That’s right: As late as 2016, the only professions depicted as women in the standard emoji set were: princess, bride, dancer, or two Playboy bunnies.

Jennifer Daniel set about fixing it.

DANIEL: I noticed that it was reinforcing stereotypes. So all the male– all the construction workers, not construction man or construction woman, construction worker were all men. And all the emotional ones like “shruggy” or “face palm” or I don’t know, like, “hair flip” were all female.

POGUE: Really?

DANIEL: So rude! So   that’s when I kicked off an initiative to– to fix it. like, “We are doing it. We’re gonna change 60– under 70 emoji to be more ge– to present themselves to be more gender inclusive.”

POGUE: And that was your project?

DANIEL: It was.  

The emoji set gained two men holding hands in 2015; became gender inclusive in 2016; got gender-neutral emoji in 2019; and mixed-race couples in 2021.

But come on—you know how people are. With each of these steps toward inclusiveness, there’s been unpleasantness and pushback. In Rayouf Alhumedhi’s case, even rape threats and death threats.

RAYOUF: When I proposed the hijab emoji, I knew the unnecessary political connotations that came with the hijab. I wasn’t blind to that.   I knew the discussions about how it was a symbol of oppression; I knew the discussions of how, “oh, they limit a woman’s freedom,”  You know, it’s a symbol of oppression, why should we give it space? 

And– to that I say– how ‘bout the– woman like me, millions of women like me who wear it by choice and wear it proudly? Like, your– a lot of their views were also you know, taken from– the media outlets and not from discussions within other Muslim women or, you know, their own personal research.

POGUE: You had enough support that the hate didn’t make you lie awake nights terrified?

RAYOUF: Yeah, the source of hate I knew came from ignorance. . It was– you know, a f– it was– the person sending the hate not having enough knowledge on the topic they’re talking about, and just  regurgitating the echo chambers they’re in. So I knew a lot of the times people disagree with the hijab is because it’s something foreign, something different.


Now, even after 20 years of expanding the emoji set, people complain that there’s still no hot-air balloon emoji. No triceratops. No glass of white wine. No tumbleweed, no stork, no anvil.

And yes, we can now choose a gender, or no gender, and a skin tone. You can now represent yourself if you’re deaf, blind, in a wheelchair, or equipped with a prosthetic limb. 

There are now emoji for redheads, bald heads, and old people. 

But those options aren’t as flexible as the gender and skin tones. You can’t combine them. You can’t make a redheaded old person, or a bald person in a wheelchair. You can’t add freckles, or a mohawk, or a gold tooth. No tattoos or scars.

In other words, these aren’t like Apple’s Memoji, where you can make an emoji that looks exactly like you. And the Unicode Consortium says that’s how it’ll stay.

POGUE: So we’ve now added more gender options. We’ve added more skin tone options. So how far is there pressure to go in making emoji look like us?

DANIEL: It’s an alphabet. It’s not an avatar system, right?   Like, how many eye colors can you really add to an emoji? And then what can you actually discern on emoji sizes, right?

POGUE: I mean, you’d have to do hair colors, eye colors, hair styles… so there’s no goal to make all the tools you need to make you look exactly like yourself.

DANIEL: I would say not. I think we are trying to prioritize what are the meaningful ones that we can do that can scale,   making sure that we’re future-proofing it, basically.

And speaking of the future: Unicode president Mark Davis is quick to shoot down the idea that emoji are some kind of new universal language, no matter how much that notion has become a trope among bloggers and pundits.

DAVIS: One of the myths is that it’s a language.  It’s– it’s a guessing game. It’s– it’s a puzzle. There aren’t verbs. There aren’t really adjectives. I mean, it’s not a language; it’s a way I think of kind of making up for the lack of gestures and intonation. 

In fact, in the really long term—the Unicode Consortium would love to get out of the emoji business entirely. 

In the documentary “The Emoji Story,” Unicode vice chair Craig Cummings puts it like this:

From “The Emoji Story,” 

GUY: I’m stepping in a pile of poo emoji here, but the future of emojis will not necessarily still involve Unicode. We only hope that there would be a better answer for emoji, and one that actually could cater more to the endless imagination of the human mind.

In the meantime, people will keep submitting their ideas, and the Consortium will keep giving us our 70 new winners every year. The 2020 set included two new emoji that came from somebody you know—Jennifer Daniel herself.

DANIEL: Oh, my first emoji proposal finally rolled out. Like, proper proposal.   I brought the proposal for “smile with tear.”


DANIEL: So that was– that was my first. And hugging– “two people hugging.” 

POGUE: Wait, wait, wait. But– but those aren’t new.

DANIEL: They came out this year.

POGUE: But there’s been a smile with a tear forever.

DANIEL: (WHISPERS) In your mind. In your mind.

POGUE: There weren’t two people hugging until 2020?

DANIEL: Well,   for “two people hugging,” we do have “hugging face.” Are you familiar with “hugging face?”


DANIEL: Oh, it’s creepy emoji. It is, like, this big old smile with these two little jazz hands. And it’s like–

POGUE: Oh, that’s supposed–to be hugging?


POGUE: I thought it was “jazz hands.”

DANIEL: I thought it was groper. (LAUGH) Like,   it’s bad news, 

POGUE: I– I had no idea that was even supposed to be hugging. That’s–

DANIEL: It isn’t anymore. (LAUGH) And that’s great.  

In other news, Rayouf Alhumedhi’s hijab emoji didn’t just give millions of people a new representation option. It also gave her an obvious topic for her college admissions essay. She got into Stanford.

POGUE: So is– is there a larger takeaway, a moral of the story from– from your whole adventure with this trip?

RAYOUF: The moral of the story spans different facets. One– people have a lot of opinions, and they love to share them on the internet. 

And B) was, if I wanted to tackle a certain problem-  I should just go ahead and do it, even if there’s problems ara– along the way. I shouldn’t let the potential thoughts of these problems stop me from pursuing it.

No, Rayouf, you shouldn’t. And now you’ve got the rest of the world looking forward to whatever you tackle next. 

UNSUNG SCIENCE with David Pogue is presented by Simon & Schuster and CBS News, and produced by PRX Productions.  

Executive Producers for Simon & Schuster are Richard Rhorer and Chris Lynch.  

The PRX production team is Jocelyn Gonzales, Morgan Flannery, Pedro Rafael Rosado and the project manager is Ian Fox.

Jesi Nelson composed the Unsung Science theme music, and fact checkerKristina Rebelopositioned herself nobly between my scripts and certain humiliation. I’d like to thank my research assistant Olivia Noble, for spending hours trolling through movies to help me find my examples.

For more on Unsung Science episodes, visit unsungscience.com. Go to my website at David Pogue.com or follow me: @Pogue on your social media platform of choice. Be sure to like and subscribe to Unsung Science wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!