Language is a living thing, forever evolving to meet the needs of new generations and contexts. Some languages, however, need a little more help than most. French, for example, is regulated by the notoriously conservative Académie française, which has pushed back against loanwords such as software and email. And then there’s the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit corporation that maintains a wide range of international software standards, including that most modern of linguistic forms—emoji.
This week, the Consortium approved 37 new emoji, including several that are sure to delight passionate users of the pictographic character system. This development comes as part of Unicode 8.0, which adds 7,716 characters in all. Arriving just a year after Unicode 7.0—which included more than 200 emoji—this new set incorporates a handful of popularly requested symbols, including a hot dog, popcorn, and a cheese wedge. They’re not all food-related, though: For some reason, users also demanded a unicorn face. With this update, the largely benevolent Unicode Consortium has given the people what they wanted.
Other additions include previously unavailable sports symbols, such as an ice hockey stick and puck, and a handful of zodiac symbols, including a crab and a scorpion. The most charming additions may also be the most horrifying, depending on what you make of them: The face with its mouth literally zippered shut might serve as a cutesy promise to keep a secret, but it also might promise a hellish torment for those who fail to maintain that silence.
And that’s both the fun and the power of emoji: Their meanings are always subject to interpretation, reappropriation, and even debate. Unicode can name the symbols they offer up—“hugging face” or “sign of the horns”—but they can’t guarantee what those symbols will suggest.
As Slate’s Amanda Hess recently learned, for example, the eggplant emoji has come to stand in for male genitalia. With the latest Unicode update, a host of new phallic contenders present themselves. Could the burrito unseat the eggplant? Should it? I, for one, can imagine some suggestive uses for the newly added “table tennis paddle and ball.”
Ultimately, though, there’s an important limit on this interpretative plasticity. Ars Technica’s Andrew Cunnigham notes that we won’t be able to use these new symbols until “companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft … add support for them to their operating systems.” Cunningham points out that Apple still hasn’t adopted many of the Unicode 7.0 symbols into their admittedly sizable library. While I’m no native speaker of the form, I’ll be ready to send out a celebratory “bottle with popping cork” when they finally do.