New emoji approved to help express the anguish of 2020

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This year has been hard. Wildfire smoke has engulfed the West Coast, hundreds of thousands are dead from an ongoing pandemic, and the US government is deadlocked to the point of illegitimacy, incapable of taking action against the economic, political, ecological, and medical devastation that threatens to engulf us. Even for those not directly affected, the perception of the ongoing crises has turned into a kind of psychic assault, challenging the limits of what we can express.

Fortunately, a new crop of emoji has just been approved by the Unicode Consortium to help out. They probably won’t reach your phone until 2021, but they’re clearly influenced by the chaos of the year, whether it’s “face exhaling” (clearly exhausted), “face in clouds” (smoke?), or “heart on fire” (self-explanatory).

I’m particularly taken by the “face with spiral eyes” emoji, submitted by Google emoji czar Jennifer Daniel. Also known as “face-unwell” (mood), the proposal includes suggested keywords like “oh no,” “trouble,” “whoa,” and “yikes” (also mood), which could be used to trigger the symbol. The general shorthand is clear enough, particularly from the anime examples included as part of the document: spiral eyes means dizzy, hypnotized, or generally overwhelmed to the point of no longer being in control of one’s actions or capable of perceiving the world.

In part, it’s meant to resolve a conflict in how different platforms interpret the “x eyes” emoji since Google and Microsoft have actually been interpreting that emoji as spiral-eyed for some time now. But it’s also an expression of the deeper incomprehensibility of the past six months, as social isolation curdles and a surreal pageant of personal and global tragedies unfolds. In 2020, we all have spiral eyes.

There is also an approved tag to add a beard to any face emoji (male or female) in order to convey how much you have aged in the past six months.

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