George Osborne uses emojis, I found out this weekend. He sends them to his children, as some dads like to, but also to cabinet ministers when they’ve done something to deserve a pat on the back from Tory high command. “I like the smiley face with sunglasses on,” the Chancellor told a right-leaning Sunday newspaper, which was in the process of giving him an old-fashioned grilling.
If I was writing that last sentence on an iPhone, I might append a smiley face with sunglasses on, which – to me – means something like “cheeky bit of sarcasm”, not “good job”, as it apparently does to Mr Osborne. That’s part of the appeal of the emoji. They can mean different things in the hands of different people, a language so new the rules haven’t been set (here I might add an “applause” emoji). Take the poodle, for instance. I sometimes use it to let people know I’m dressed up to the nines and really looking my best (“primped and preened”) but, equally, I can see how a stranger might read it as if I’m feeling terribly fragile and stupid.
Of course, this assumes you’re already au fait with the emoji keyboard, as if you weren’t, that would put you some way behind George Osborne in the cool stakes – not something I’d throw lightly at an Independent reader. In case anyone’s memory needs jogging, though… emojis are essentially the evolution of the :), 850 Technicolor symbols added to smartphone messenger services, ranging from the predictable (a host of smileys) to the divine (a saucy tango dancer, who looks like she’s shaking some kind of imaginary castanets, while an exquisitely poised and pixelated bit of ankle taps out from beneath a sumptuous red dress. I think she’s almost universally taken to mean “let’s get down tonight” or, “vayamos esta noche”, as they might say in her homeland).
It can’t but humanise Osborne to know that he speaks emoji. I try my best to keep in mind the cut to tax credits, but all I can think of now is George’s mouth, tweaking up at the corners, as he drops Climate Secretary Amber Rudd a cartoon crocodile (“you showed your teeth at that DECC meeting. Well done”) or Defence Secretary Philip Hammond a bowling ball (“let’s knock these Isis f*****s out”). It’s political kryptonite. I’m overcome. You could tell me Thatcher sprinkled her memos with emojis and I’d be down at that Chelsea nightclub where everyone worships her ironically-but-not-at-all-ironically before you can say “Maggie’s”.
Perhaps this is giving Osborne too much credit, and, in truth, he doesn’t let his fingers trip far beyond that smiley face with sunglasses. (Another theory: maybe he does know that smiley means “being shady”, and sends it out whenever the Tories carry off something Machiavellian.) True emoji artistes, on the other hand, approach the keyboard like Picasso with store credit in a paint shop. If they wanted to say something like, “I think I’m starting to fall for George Osborne”, they might use some mix of the acidically-swirled lollipop (“I’m losing my mind”), the lightning bolt (“this is a Damascene moment”) and the monkey covering its eyes (“I just don’t want to look at myself right now”). Or almost any of the others.
This makes out like I’m some kind of emoji wizard. Sadly, I’m a novice, and often just plump for one and send it on repeat (six or seven strawberries for “that sounds really sweet”). There’s just so many to choose from, and I find that I can spend far more time than is appropriate searching for the “emoji juste”. If the The Independent’s printers were to work out a way of incorporating the emoji keyboard, I’d be poking my eyes out come deadline time, trying to figure out if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is more of an aubergine (“remorseless posho”) or a banana (this one’s obvious).
That’s the worry, for anyone who fancies they’ve just about wrestled the English language into submission. Sometimes an emoji expresses a sentiment better than words ever could. There’s a new vocabulary out there, and it’s "adapt or die" time. A line that, I must say, cries out for a [scared rabbit face].
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