Multiscriptal face writing

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We've mentioned "kaomoji " before (see "Readings"), but only gave a few examples.

"Kaomoji 顔文字 ("face character / writing") is a Japanese term for more or less elaborate "drawings" composed of kana, characters, punctuation marks, and now letters and other symbols drawn from a wide range of writing systems.  They can be quite fanciful, even florid.  Some of them are exquisite, breathtakingly beautiful.

I hadn't seen many of them in the past, but in the last few days, Diana Shuheng Zhang started sending a bunch of them to me, and I found them utterly captivating, so I've decided to share some delightful kaomoji with Language Log readers.

__φ(◎◎ヘ) [scrutinizing….thinking… with one's glasses on….]

( ° ∀ ° )ノ゙[good morning!]

(ʘ ͜ʖ ʘ) [bingo!]

(o^ ^o)且 且(´ω`*) ["cheers!": 且 are two beer mugs]\(⌒▽⌒) [greeting with a smiley look and waving a hand]

A set of runner's kaomojis:

ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ [happy running]
♪ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ [happy running with music]
ᕕ( ཀ ʖ̯ ཀ)ᕗ [super tired running]
ᕕ( ՞ ᗜ ՞ )ᕗ [got a runner's high]
─=≡Σᕕ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)ᕗ [one, two, three, gotta rush!]

Some more creative ones:

(ง ͠°ل͜ ͡°)ง [scheming….]
(눈‸눈) [after having just pulled an all-nighter…]
乁( ⁰͡ Ĺ̯ ⁰͡ ) ㄏ [who cares?]
乁(ಠ_ಠ)ㄏ [I've got no idea.]
\(⌒o⌒)人(⌒-⌒)/ [high five!]
(*´ω`)人(´ω`*) [the Sinograph for "person" in the middle looks like two people's hands clapping together]

This looks like me, when I was so angry talking about a certain misconception in our "Language, Script, and Society in China" class that I almost threw a chair:


Lip-licking expression:

˘ڡ˘ [yummy!]

And a variant:


Two people saying goodbye to each other:


Two kaomojis incorporating Sinographs:

(ಠ益ಠ) ["angry, clenching teeth"] — cf. the chair-throwing kaomoji above

崩╰(〒皿〒)╯潰 "collapsed" (in this one, bēngkuì 崩潰 ["collapse; crumble; fall apart"] are not used iconographically, but semantically!)

A sleepy cat to accompany you in the afternoon:

^( =①ω①=)^

This fantastic spider is one of my very favorite kaomojis:


I don't just like it; I love it!

I'm also enchanted by this butterfly:


This kaomoji is simple, but meaningful:

__φ(..) [that's someone holding a pen and writing]

With a feeling of satisfaction:

٩(๑•̀ω•́๑)۶  [you're welcome] — with Thai, Greek, Arabic elements, making a cute little happy face with his fists up!

d(`・∀・)b [feeling happy, with double thumbs up]

A couple of kaomoji websites and "databases" may be found here and here.

Scroll down to the bottom of the latter one to see the whole list of kaomoji, which is simply amazing.

And here's the wonderful Japanese Wikipedia article for kaomoji.

Kaomoji can be recondite, private, and personal, but they can also be readily apprehensible.  I'm enchanted by them because they invite creativity and expressiveness within a confined medium.

And here's a closing bouquet of kaomojis to show how versatile they are:

ಥ_ಥ "crying"
(⊙ө⊙) "shocked"
(๑¯ਊ¯)σ л̵ʱªʱªʱª "laughing hard"
乀(ˉεˉ乀) "give you kisses"
(இωஇ ) "mesmerized"
(*`н´*) "pouting, puffy face"
(˘•ω•˘)ง "gambatte"
(;´༎ຶД༎ຶ`) "horrified"

One last kaomoji for today:

(´^ω^)ノ [goodbye] — you'll note that it's different from the variants given above



"Emojis vs. emoticons " (7/8/19)

"Chinese emoji, with a twist " (5/23/17)

"Creeping kanji" (4/1/15)

"iPhone ideography" (1/3/13)

"∆ in Chinese" (8/18/18)

"Monumental laughing face" (1/13/17)


  1. M. Paul Shore said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 9:33 am

    Quite remarkable.

    I’m curious to know, what was the near-chair-throwing-worthy misconception? Is there perhaps a thread about it on Language Log that you could give a link to?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 10:01 am

    When people just can't tell the difference between a word and a character.

  3. Erik said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 11:14 am

    You might find the videos of Sean Hogan interesting…

  4. Chas Belov said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 2:30 pm

    As someone who is icon-challenged, I have rarely been able to grok these, even as I appreciate their artistry. I rather imagine most are inserted via copy and paste, although obviously someone had to think them up and construct them in the first place.

    I respectfully suggest inserting a blank line between adjacent lines in this posting so the kaomojis can be appreciated individually.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 3:38 pm

    That version of the tableflip was new to me, so here are eight more that were also new to me:

    (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻)
    ┻━┻ ︵ ¯\(ツ)/¯ ︵ ┻━┻
    (ノಥ益ಥ)ノ ┻━┻
    ┬─┬ノ( º _ ºノ)
    (J °O°)J JL_JL v-v /(

    The second has a smiling person ¯\(ツ)/¯ , derived from the usual shrugging one ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , flipping tables on both sides. The fourth is still deciding whether to flip or not to flip. The third-to-last may have killed someone by throwing a table on them, I'm not sure…

  6. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 5:36 pm

    For the image challenged souls who are unable to appreciate kaomojis, know that you're not alone:

    "Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye" (3/24/17)

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 6:23 pm

    Well, I am one of the "image-challenged souls who are unable to appreciate kaomoji", but I do not think that I suffer from aphantasia — when I was once asked (a test question by a friend, after I said that I finished reading a book which I had picked up less than an hour before) "what happened when the tank ran over the mine ?", I responded "it split open its belly like a pregnant cow", then told him where (physically) the words appeared in the (recto) page, so I can most certainly summon up a mental image of things, but icons (and kaomoji, and emoji, and so on) just fail to communicate anything. Simple emoticons (the classic smiley, for example), I can understand, but all of the kaomoji just pass me by …

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 6:42 pm

    Even the beautiful butterfly and the lurking spider and the sleepy cat?

    Their impact upon me is very powerful.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    December 1, 2019 @ 4:39 am

    'fraid so. If I zoom in, I can "understand" them, but they have no impact on me. whereas I can appreciate some works of ASCII art, e.g. this one by Jaume Estapa.

  10. Trogluddite said,

    December 1, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    I agree with you that aphantasia may not be sufficient explanation for such variations of perception; though for the opposite reason. I'm almost completely visually aphantasic. I can't conjure up a simulation of visual stimuli in my mind's eye, neither when recalling a memory nor to picture an imaginary scene. At most, and with considerable concentration, I might occasionally catch a glimpse of a small detail for a fraction of second. However, this does not appear to impair my perception of visual metaphors nor my appreciation for the visual arts, and I find these kaomoji as delightful as Victor apparently does.

    I also experience pareidolia no less than than seems typical; I perform well in mental rotation tests; my hobbies include drawing and painting, and have worked successfully as an industrial designer (including some work on software GUIs). Such abilities to manipulate information which most people think of as primarily visual, but without being able to "see" a mental image of it, don't appear to be unusual for aphantasics as far as I can tell (though formal research on the subject is admittedly rather sparse).

    There are no doubt some very fascinating aspects of cognition which might explain variations in how kaomoji are perceived, but I'm not convinced that aphantasia is sufficient or even necessary to explain them; at least, certainly not in every case.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    December 1, 2019 @ 6:34 pm

    Here's another charming, original kaomoji by Diana Shuheng Zhang:


    It's cute little raccoon with two little round black eyes, holding up his front paws ready to clasp her arms, an event that really happened at around 11pm on February 1st, 2017 on an extremely dark, windy, and chilly winter Seattle night after she left Suzzallo library (at the University of Washington) and was waiting for the No. 75 bus home.

    Such miraculous happenings result in these fantastic, imaginative kaomojis. But you need to have a certain type of sensitivity to experience and appreciate them.

  12. Jonathan D said,

    December 1, 2019 @ 8:52 pm

    David Marjanović, I've most often seen your fourth one as a response to a tableflip – restoring the table's orientation.

  13. Vivienne R. said,

    December 2, 2019 @ 9:38 am

    Should more modern emoticons like OwO or UwU be considered as Latin alphabet kaomoji?

  14. Raempftl said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 11:39 am

    This reminds me of a YouTube channel (文字絵師アジキ) I recently found. Here is a link to latest video where he (I think) draws a face using 12 Hiragana:

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