As someone who has used an iPhone for all of her adult life (after several lucky teenage years with an LG Chocolate in robin’s egg blue), there are certain things about Android phones that are simply mysteries to me. For instance, I only recently learned that the Android plays home to one of the most cursed phone features of all time: the Google Emoji Kitchen, a function on the Google’s Android keyboard.
I was texting with a friend when she sent me this:
It might not be a particularly remarkable, but it was exaggerated enough in comparison to an actual emoji I knew from my phone (😩) that I did a double-take. “Android has these freaky fusion emojis where you combine two emojis,” my friend explained. In this case, she had combined the distressed emoji with itself: 😩 squared, if you will. “They are cursed.” Then she sent me these:
The first one is a combination of 🐷 and 🐌. The second blends together 🐙 and 🌭. That last one is what you get when you combine the emojis for 🐖 and 🔥. (Poor piggy.) Needless to say, as I received these emoji, I began to wonder: Why did they exist? Who made them? Why are they so haunting? No really, why would you do this? To get answers, I wrote to Jennifer Daniel, the creative director for emoji at Google, whose team created the Emoji Kitchen.
The Emoji Kitchen, which debuted in December 2020 but only recently became known to me as a source of eldritch horrors, was created “to do things we are already doing with words and pictures, but now the experience [of] using them can operate at the speed of language online.” Actual emoji, like text used on digital devices, are standardized by the nonprofit Unicode Consortium, which ensures that they will display more or less the same way across platforms. With that broad goal in mind, emojis go through a two-year approval process, with documentation detailing how and why each emoji would be used, and how it would be additive to the existing emoji ecosystem. The Emoji Kitchen serves as something of an emoji highway—the combined emoji that come out of it aren’t actually emoji, but bitmapped (not inline, as true emoji are) images.
The emoji are also all, in Daniel’s words, “artisanally crafted.” Rather than being generated by an A.I., each and every combo is handmade. And what the combos look like lean into what is “most obvious,” i.e. heart plus cheese results in a heart made of cheese. Obviously, pig plus fire equals bacon. (Again, sorry, piggy.)
For most emojis, like pig plus snail, or octopus plus hotdog, Daniel’s answers cleared up any confusion I harbored. But there’s no denying that some of the Emoji Kitchen chimera are decidedly more sinister. Take, for instance, what you get when you combine cactus plus sloth.
It’s intuitive, yes, but the detail of the sloth’s pained expression adds a new, uncomfortable dimension to the emoji. Who put the sloth there? How will it get free? Should someone call a vet?
For another example of an unsettling Kitchen creation, look at this:
I am actively scared of this snail creature. Its single eye has clearly seen something no mortal eyes were meant to see, and the little moue of its mouth makes it clear that it liked it. It knows when and how you’re going to die, and will relish telling you. These emoji may be “at your service,” as Daniel says, but there’s absolutely no question in my mind that some of them will, when the apocalypse comes, take us into their service instead.