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How to Use Emoji on OS X Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan and macOS Sierra

The internet is evolving; the internet is mobile. One of the ways that many communicate is through symbols known as emoji. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use emoji on the Mac.

Emoticons Versus Emoji

Emoticons Versus Emoji
Emoticons Versus Emoji
Many people are unclear on the difference between emoticons and emoji, often using the terms interchangeably.

There is a difference, though.

The Emoticon Defined

Winking face emoticon
Winking face emoticon

An emoticon is a typographical display of a facial representation that is intended to convey an emotion in communication through a text-only medium.

For example, 😉 and 🙁 for happy/winking and sad faces, respectively. 

Interestingly, experienced (longer) users of the internet tend to go with 🙂 whereas younger users of the internet use 🙂 as the representation.

The use of internet emoticons is believed to have originated in 1982 when computer scientist Scott Fahlman proposed the use of 🙂 and 🙁 on a message board at Carnegie Mellon University to distinguish serious posts from jokes.

The original message from which these symbols originated was posted on September 19, 1982. The original message is quoted as:

That said, it appears that the original use of text to convey emotion appeared in Reader’s Digest in May 1967, according to Snopes.

The Emoji Defined

A winking ghost emoji
A winking ghost emoji

By contrast, an emoji is an actual picture, a graphic that can not be made up from a text only format. 

Emoji go beyond smiley—or sad—faces and now extends to a large character set of many symbols representing faces, flags, food, symbols and much more.

Emoji were created in the late-1990s by Japanese communications firm NTT DoCoMo. The name emoji is a contraction of e and moji, roughly translating from the Japanese as pictograph.

Whereas emoticons are emotions conveyed using basic text, emoji are Unicode symbols, and extension of the character set used by different computing platforms.

The Emoji Problem

Investigating the Potential for Miscommunication Using Emoji
Image credit: Investigating the Potential for Miscommunication Using Emoji, Hannah Miller. (source

You may not realise it, but the display of any given emoji is likely to be different across different devices.

Google, for example, has a different emoji character set to Apple. And both are different to Microsoft. And Twitter. And Facebook, and Samsung and LG and HTC and so on…

In April 2016, Hannah Miller, a Ph.D. student in the GroupLens research lab at the University of Minnesota published an article Investigating the Potential for Miscommunication Using Emoji and it makes for interesting reading to understand why a communication aid can actually foster miscommunication and misunderstanding.

For example, an emoji can exhibit positive and negative connotations:

Interpretation of emoji sentiment
Image credit: Investigating the Potential for Miscommunication Using Emoji, Hannah Miller. (source

Non-unified Unicode Emoji

For those who are interested, over at unicode.org, they chart Unicode emoji characters with images compared between different vendors, version, source information with the ordering of the information being based on Unicode CLDR data.

Unicode Chart
Unicode Chart (source)

How to Use Emoji on the Mac

Despite its obvious problems, if you are keen to use emoji in your communication with others, it is possible—although not immediately obvious—to use emoji on a Mac.

The following instructions will work on the following Mac operating systems:

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks
  • OS X 10.10 Yosemite
  • OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and 
  • macOS 10.12 Sierra

The Quick Method

A quick combination keypress allows you to insert emoji into most text input fields.

Press CTRL-COMMAND-SPACE to launch the characters palette
Press CTRL-COMMAND-SPACE to launch the characters palette
  1. Position the cursor where you wish to insert an emoji
  2. Press CTRL-COMMAND-SPACE to launch the characters palette
  3. Select the desired emoji by clicking the mouse on it, this will insert the emoji where the cursor was positioned in step 1
  4. You can select different emoji character groups by using the icons at the bottom of the emoji palette window
  5. Click on the icon in the top right to access the Characters window
Click on the icon in the top right to access the Characters window
Click on the icon in the top right to access the Characters window

The Pro Method

If you are likely to use emoji frequently, there is another way to access them. You can place an icon on the menu bar so that you can find them easily.

Press COMMAND-SPACE to open Spotlight type keyboard and press ENTER
Press COMMAND-SPACE to open Spotlight, type keyboard and press ENTER
  • Press COMMAND-SPACE to open Spotlight
  • Type keyboard and press ENTER to open System Preferences > Keyboard
Under the Keyboard tab ensure that the tick box is ticked for Show Keyboard Emoji  Symbol Viewers in menu bar
Ensure that the tick box is ticked for Show Keyboard, Emoji & Symbol Viewers in menu bar
  • Under the Keyboard tab, ensure that the tick box is ticked for Show Keyboard, Emoji & Symbol Viewers in menu bar
  • Go to the Keyboard icon on the menu bar, click and select Show Emoji and Symbols to open the characters window
Click the icon and select Show Emoji  Symbols
Click the icon and select Show Emoji & Symbols
  • In the future, you can quickly access the emoji symbols by going to the menu bar icon
  • Click the icon and select Show Emoji & Symbols

Conclusion

Whilst not immediately obvious, it is possible to use emoji in a Mac. Just be aware, though, that the display of emoji differ across different computing platforms.

If there is no symbol in the character set for any given Unicode character, then an ugly placeholder will often be displayed. 

😉