Unicode Should Take a Hint from Paleontologists When Designing Dinosaur Emojis

Dinosaur emojis present an excellent opportunity to get up to date on dino anatomy.

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May 15 2016, 6:25pm

Model of the raptor Deinonychus. Image: Domser

The evolution of emojis, much like the evolution of life on Earth, is naturally fated to include dinosaurs. After all, there are inevitably times when regular, word-based language fails us, and only a lunging raptor or long-necked sauropod can adequately express our thoughts and emotions. Indeed, speaking only for myself, I'm almost worried that once dino emojis are introduced, they may become my sole mode of communication with the outside world, for better or worse.

To that point, the demand for dino emojis has undeniably reached a fever pitch, resulting in the launch of multiple Change.org petitions, the unleashing of profanity-laced rants, and the submission of proposals for specific dino characters to the Unicode Consortium, the great gatekeeper and arbiter of emoji additions.

"There is no doubt that dinosaur emoji have a very high expected frequency of usage, and encoding emoji representing dinosaurs would fill a striking gap in the coverage of animal emoji in the Unicode Standard," said Unicode's Andrew West, in a recent response to dino emoji proposals. "Obviously not all dinosaurs should be encoded as emoji, but it would be possible to satisfy the demands of most emoji users by encoding a wider range of dinosaur emoji."

To "fill in the holes and complete the code," as Jurassic Park's Mr. DNA would put it, West suggested adding 13 new emojis representing major dinosaur taxons, including large theropods like T. rex , ceratopsians like Triceratops, and raptors like Velociraptor.

Image: Unicode Consortium

On the whole, the 13 new recommended dino emojis are a promising step in the right direction, and it's exciting to see any action on this front at all. But if we really are standing on the precipice of the next great revolution in communication, which dino emojis surely are, we should do everything in our power to uphold the legacy of the great creatures that roamed our planet during the Mesozoic.

For starters, that means that the raptor emoji must have feathers, which the current suggested image notably lacks. If you are still an apologist for non-feathered, naked ass raptors, you need to move aside and let the rest of the world fully embrace the spectacular birdlike plumages of these animals, as Dr. Alan Grant intended. If the archeopteryx emoji gets to have feathers, raptors do too.

In fact, ideally, the tyrannosaur and Gallimimus emojis could also use some feathered detail too, but that's more of a quibble. Raptors though? No joke. Indeed, as evidenced by our recent piece on this series of scientifically accurate raptor toys—which is currently 160 percent funded—the demand for realistic depictions of these dinosaurs is soaring like a pterosaur.

Speaking of pterosaurs, it's good to see that a pterosaur emoji also made the cut on the new table of suggestions. However, pterosaurs, along with the marine animals plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs—which also round out the list—were not dinosaurs, just contemporaries of them. It would be beyond pedantic of me to suggest that this set of emojis be called "Mesozoic animals" as opposed to the popular catchall "dinosaurs" but I happen to be beyond pedantic. Dinosaurs have their own unique traits and evolutionary background that should not be confused with their neighbors in the air and seas, so Unicode should think twice before lumping pterosaurs and Mesozoic swimmers under the dinosaurian banner.

Look at this not-a-dinosaur. Image: Dmitri Bogdanov

Finally, there's the suggestion to include a Brontosaurus as the representative of the gigantic, long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods. The problem with this is that Brontosaurus is, in some ways, the paleontological equivalent of Pluto, having been demoted and reclassified as Apatosaurus all the way back in 1903.

This has given paleontology nerds a lot of fodder to correct the usage of the name of this iconic animal over the past century. But then, last year, the plot twisted even further when an exhaustive study reinstated Brontosaurus as a distinct genus, reviving the name in both popular and scientific culture.

So, in short: Brontosaurus has become a real taxonomical clusterfuck, and it's a lot to ask for the average emoji-user to know the entire complicated history of its status. Instead, let's just call these animals what they were en masse—sauropods. Simple, elegant, and inclusive of the wide diversity of this group, which ranged from the tiny horse-sized Europasaurus to the 122-foot-long hulking giants of the titanosaur branch of the tree.

The rest of the suggested dino emojis, from the dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus to the beloved, spiky Stegosaurus, all appear to be aces. I look forward to the day when I can finally use them to articulate everything that I have wanted to say before there were dinosaur emojis to say it.

Insert feathered raptor emoji here.