“No idea, really, except these things can be flukish,” he said. “Tsunamis is pretty common in English. And looking at another source, you’ve got medium-media but stadium-stadiums.”
Tsunamis! Touché, Corbett. You win this round, being a professional grammarian and all.
When I talked to similar folks at the Associated Press, they said they had chosen emojis because of its popularity and clarity as well.
“If my memory serves correctly, we consulted with our social-media experts at the AP. Their recommendation was to use the -s for the plural form,” David Minthorn, co-editor of the AP stylebook, told me. He said the Associated Press began recommending emojis as the plural in 2014.
So that’s open and shut, right? We should just all adopt these emojis right away. But with all due respect, I think this question isn’t nearly as straightforward as asking some people who tweet for a news agency. In fact, with further research, I think the AP’s recommendation here is misguided if not outright incorrect.
But to confirm my views, I had to go farther. I had to go to the source.
* * *
Like sushi, emoji as both word and idea was loaned to U.S. English from Japanese. Emoji, in fact, are one of the few technologies that managed to start in Japan’s peculiar smartphone market and spread to the entire world. Many Japanese cell makers let users send emoji years before Apple and Google adopted them.
In Japanese, emoji is a compound: E roughly means picture (絵), while moji means written character (文字). In that language, one or many emoji characters are both referred to as emoji.
This unity of singular and plural forms is common in Japanese, according to Yoshiko Matsumoto, a Stanford University professor and the coordinator of its Japanese language program. “Although there are ways to indicate plurality of objects, it is also fair to say that the same noun form tends to be used in Japanese for one object or for multiples of the same object,” she said in an email.
This differs from the English model of pluralization—or, at least, it does most of the time. English usually alters the end of nouns to indicate their number, appending an -s or some other letter: More than one dog becomes dogs. But as many aggravated grade schoolers can tell you, English nouns—especially older English nouns—can pluralize in other ways. As the linguist John McWhorter gets into in this video, some of these are kind of weird: More than one goose turn into geese; an ox is transfigured into oxen. And still other English words follow the Japanese fashion: A bunch of moose stay moose.
But this doesn’t explain why different loan words take on different plural forms. Upon its absorption into English, why did sushi make like moose, but tsunami follow dogs?
Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist who frequently writes about language on the Internet, made some sense of it. An intuitive but sometimes conflicting set of rules govern how loan words—especially Japanese loan words—enter the English language, she told me.