The Curious Origins of the Poop Emoji
According to the traditional proverb, “the eyes are the window of the soul,” but here at uBiome we prefer to suggest that the bottom is the door to the microbiome.
Apologies if this has put you off your sandwich, but the plain truth is that every day our laboratory processes a prodigious quantity of poop samples.
A veritable crapload, you might say.
It’s odd, however, to reflect on the ways in which poop – what you might see as our raw material – is talked about (or not talked about) in polite company.
While we hope it’s acceptable for us to use the words poop’ and even ‘crap,’ you might be less comfortable were we to use other terms referring to defecation.
Bathroom-related language has long been used in insulting ways, but little could be worse, perhaps, than the Italian expression, “Caccati in mano e prenditi a schiaffi!” which loosely translates into “Take a dump in your hand and then slap yourself.”
Uh, quite. Mamma mia.
With this in mind, however, what on earth was the strange turn of events that led to it somehow becoming cute to use a “poop emoji” in digital communications such as texts, tweets, and Facebook posts?
Who uses it? And where the heck did it come from?
Well, a website called Emojitracker performs real-time analysis of the emoji used on Twitter, and currently the pile of smiling poop is the 116th most popular.
Top of the charts at the moment is that hysterically laughing smiley with tears streaming from its eyes.
Head across the border to Canada, however, and you’ll remarkably find that the poop emoji is the most-used of all.
Canada: the land of Mounties, maple syrup… and the poop emoji.
The whole idea of emoji originated further afield, in Japan.
Emoji means “picture character” in Japanese, and many of the emoji themselves started life in that country, which kind of explains the appearance of the smiling pile.
You see, there’s long been a history of what you might call poop worship in Japan.
In fact, years ago it was common in Japan to respect deities known as “banjo-gami,” or privy gods, by placing figurines on top of, or underneath, toilets.
And unlikely as it may seem, poop-shaped gold charms have long been popular good luck tokens in Japan.
The definitive guide to emoji, Emojipedia, describes the poop icon as “a pile of poo that is shaped like a soft-serve ice cream,” and its original design seems to have been inspired by a 1980s Japanese manga series called Dr. Slump that was filled with puns and bathroom jokes.
In it, a character called Poop-Boy felt too small to be friends with big people, but soon became pals with Bird-Poop-Boy.
These two then teamed up with Manure-Boy.
Somewhat disconcertingly, the little gang came across Soft-Serve-Ice-Cream boy, who they mistook for a poop.
(This probably works better in Japan than it does here.)
But the case of mistaken identity seems to have persisted.
In March 2015, the Huffington Post reported that the LA-based writer, Peter Miller, had accidentally discovered that the poop emoji and the ice cream emoji had distinct similarities.
In fact, the ice cream emoji is, precisely, the poop emoji minus eyes and mouth, plus a cone, and a change of color.
In 2014, the 120-year-old Hershey company introduced a new corporate logo which was supposedly an iconic representation of one of the confectioner’s greatest hits – the Hershey’s Kiss.
Unfortunately, people couldn’t help but notice that it also bore a distinct resemblance to the poop emoji.
Again, uh, yum.
Emoji officially came to the US back in 2007, and we have Google’s now Principal Designer/Director, Ryan Germick, to thank for the Americanized poop emoji, work he carried out alongside Susie Sahim.
He may now be top of the design tree at Google, but it could be said that Mr. Germick undoubtedly started at the bottom.
Different platforms have their own versions of emoji.
The picture itself isn’t transmitted, just a “Unicode” reference to it, which in the case of the poop emoji is U+1F4A9.
Your browser or software application then knows how to turn this code into the familiar little picture.
U+1F4A9 doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so should you not have access to an emoji keyboard, some devices can produce this particular image if you type one of three short codes, each book-ended with colons.
Rather clever to use a colon to produce a poop emoji, don’t you think?
The three short codes are (1) :poop: (2) another code that’s far too crude for our newsletter but is an anagram of “hits,” and (3) :hankey: – a reference to the 1997 episode of South Park, “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo,” featuring a talking and singing piece of feces wearing a red hat.
In the episode, it was said that Mr. Hankey emerged from the toilet bowl on Christmas Eve, bringing presents to good boys and girls whose diets had been high in fiber.
Apparently, South Park creator Trey Parker was a reluctant toilet-flusher as a toddler, but his father got him to change his habits by telling little Trey that if he didn’t flush the stool, which he named “Mr Hankey,” it would come to life and kill him.
Whoah. Perhaps not the kindest child-rearing practice, but it does explain why :hankey: went on to become the short code for the poop emoji, an ever-evolving entity.
The latest version for the iPhone, introduced with iOS 10 in September 2016, is described as having “a thicker, more 3D appearance.”
Now, there’s a designer who really does know his or her sh*t.