About Dam Time

The hilarious, extremely convincing proposal to make a beaver emoji.

Beaver emojis! So cute.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images via Anna Zeng/Emojination

You might not realize it, but there is a whole host of texting scenarios in which you might require a beaver emoji. A text to your friends in Canada, for example, to express your mutual admiration for their national animal. Or an invite to a fellow enthusiast of nocturnal semi-aquatic mammals to rendezvous at the nearest state park. (Alas, there is no dam emoji.) Or—why not?—a euphemistic missive to a consenting fellow sexter. Beaver emojis: probably very useful!

If any of those examples apply to you, you’re in luck. Come October, the beaver emoji will be among this year’s class of new emojis, though it may take a whole year after that for the bucktoothed rodent to hit your phone. The proposal to include the beaver emoji comes thanks to a cadre of Canadians, lesbians, semi-aquatic mammal enthusiasts, and emoji specialists who wrote an extremely convincing and rather hilarious proposal, which in March was submitted to the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit responsible for standardizing text and emoji across devices.

The proposal gives very clear reasons for why beavers are important. For one, as the proposal lays out, beavers are distinct and cool. Beyond the ability to build water lodges that can block forest streams and a proclivity for floating around on their backs, beavers have “buck teeth, webbed feet, and a wide tail that make it recognizable worldwide.” Yet they differ significantly enough from chipmunks and raccoons, which are represented in the emoji set, that the proposal argues that a beaver needs an emoji of its own. Beavers also have historical significance for North America, where they have been hunted for their furs for centuries, leading the way for the animal to become the official emblem of Canada. As the proposal notes, the beaver “is synonymous with worldwide Canadian culture.”

But there’s another layer of significance that the beaver emoji might convey for some communities: “The beaver is sometimes used as slang to make reference [to] women’s vaginas,” the proposal states plainly on the first page. “Among lesbians, references to beavers are inside jokes that carry no pejorative insult.” While the three lesbians and queer people I texted in researching this article confirmed the usage of the term, they all also noted that it’s a bit dated. “I use a peach,” one said. Still, language is fluid. And there are infinite ways we can and should talk about vaginas. If some enthusiasts felt limited by a lack of a beaver emoji, well, soon they’ll have one.

“Nathalie [Reid] and I wanted lesbians all over the world to have proper emoji representation should they ever need it,” said Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, who is half of the lesbian (and half-Canadian) couple that had the initial idea to craft the beaver proposal.

Beyond the obvious symbolism beavers evoke, the proposal also makes a data-driven case for the animal’s relevance. Looking at Wikipedia page views and Google search data, interest in the word beaver, the proposal notes, is comparable to interest in the term elephant. It turns out it’s also not uncommon for people to complain about the lack of a beaver emoji on Twitter.
“Why is there no moose or beaver emoji?!? How am I supposed to adequately text with a Canadian?” lamented one user whose tweet landed in the proposal. Another tweet from last year complains, “Pretty sexist that there’s an eggplant emoji but still no beaver.” In the month of April alone, a search on Twitter revealed at least 20 people wondering about the absence of a beaver emoji. Going back months and years further, it appears to be a common grievance, particularly among Canadians.

Some of the people involved in submitting the proposal, which is worth reading in its entirety, have submitted emoji ideas to Unicode before. Jennifer 8. Lee, who helped shepherd this proposal, runs the emoji advocacy group Emojination and has now helped to realize more than 100 new emoji, focusing on emoji that make the character set more inclusive. Thanks to Lee’s advocacy, there’s now an emoji character who wears a hijab, a dumpling emoji, and dozens of new combinations of skin tones. Lee now also sits on the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee. Theo Shear, a videographer in the Bay Area who also helped draft the beaver document, has had a few other successes in the emoji department, too. He’s had proposals for a juice box, a picket sign, and a bucket accepted, too.

“There’s nothing to compare to the beaver,” the proposal aptly notes, after which the authors suggest it appear beside the otter when it finally makes it to its rightful place on your phone.

Now: What can we do to get that moose emoji?

Read the full proposal below:

This article has been updated with a quote from Joan Donovan.