Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
'Drop of Blood' Emoji, Symbol of the Period, Is Praised by Activists (npr.org)
58 points by furcyd 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

I'm not sure I understand why people think that we should add the other emojis that were suggested. Emojis are in no way supposed to represent every single thing that you could possibly want to talk about; that's why many of them end up representing other things based on context (for example, the eggplant or peach emojis). The blood emoji is fine, but the soiled underwear is just…weird. That would be like asking for a used toilet paper emoji–it's super specific and not all that pleasant.

This isn't "every single thing that you could possibly want to talk about". This is something that half of the world population experiences roughly monthly for some number of years. Certainly it's more frequently experienced than the emojis - though I appreciate those. So it's clearly something that should exist. The underwear might seem odd but it's no weirder than the smiling poop emoji...

> This isn't "every single thing that you could possibly want to talk about". This is something that half of the world population experiences roughly monthly for some number of years.

Morning wood emoji when?

smiling poop:blood::used toilet paper:underwear. Emojis generally common nouns, and generally come with associated context to further specify what the exact meaning is. And, just to be sure, you're comparing two demographics of similar size (women vs. people who use toilet paper); I think that neither group should be given specific emojis in this case.

And 100% of the world's population has an ass, but we're still stuck with the peach emoji.

"than the emojis" was really "than the [Christmas] emojis"


Look on the bright side, it might allow people who don't speak each other's written languages to communicate better than ever before.

The problem is the meaning of most symbols depends on your culture.

In the first place it is sad that "emojis", "emoticons", etc. are so broadly used. It only shows how writing skills are deteriorating. Mark Twain or Hemingway didn't need emojis to express sadness or humor.

Here's a page from one of Twain's manuscripts. I think he'd have made good use of Emoji.


Drawing a picture on a manuscript is not the same as copying a picture drawn by someone else.

Are you kidding? Pictures and "emojis" are far more informationally dense than words are. If anything this shows how quickly language is evolving when facilitated by instantaneous information transfer of near unlimited amounts of data.

Don't be fooled by the pretty images.

While painting/photos can express multiple, deep emotions, they are unique. The value added by a copy it's none.

Moreover emojis are for 99%+ simple nouns ("hand", "pig", "dog", "smile"). And for thing that are not nouns, you still need to understand that they are logograms, with a "fixed" meaning. Kanjis are not better than Romans - they are just different alphabets.

And if you think about it long enough you will find that there is already a 1-to-1 mapping behind the "emojis" and the words (by definition, the unicode is the mapping of numbers - the code point, to meanings - the name, and to images - the pictogram, so you can have U+1F436 associated to 'DOG FACE' and ) , so they are "informationally dense equals" between each others.

The real advantage of emojis (and the reason I suspect most people use them) is to compensate for the loss of body language in texting. I use them so much when talking to one friend in particular that she can tell something is wrong when I stop using them for a little while.

That was the original intent, right there in the name, back when they were still emoticons.

But well, you don't need ice cream cones and airplanes to compensate for loss of body language, unless you routinely pantomime those things.

Which is why we have standards for conveying any conceivable image in raster or vector form.

Instead of selecting an easily compressible format for embedding any small image inline with text, we're trying to force a writing system into a kind of general-purpose icon library.

We could've had a world where carriers and phone manufacturers each had their own "common" images easily entered from some list like now, but still allowing cross-platform transmission without information loss, and enabling users to easily add their own custom images.

Now Unicode is stuck trying to define a finite set of popular words which every platform renders slightly differently, and will always leave something out or offend someone.

Are you really comparing regular people to Twain and Hemingway?

What perplexes me is the level of ignorance of the people pushing these. You don't get to decide how people use emojis. That kind of evolves naturally.

I'm more concerned with it being yet another thing activists get upset over when people start "using it wrong."

I just wanted to communicate that I had Chipotle last night.

The article doesn't even say this.

The story is that a group was pushing for the creation of an emoji.

They wanted underwear with a droplet symbol on it, but Unicode only approved a blood droplet.

Of course it can be used for other things and that's what the quote from that group said, expressing their disappointment.

I'm confused as to why most the comments here seem to outraged about activists trying to own the emoji when that wasn't mentioned at all in the article and sounds ridiculous.

I don't think the two organisations 'pushing' these - the UK national health service and a humanitarian organisation - expect that the emojis will or should be used solely to represent menstruation. But they will make that a possibility for the first time. And the likelihood is that that will be their dominant use. By doing so, they hope to make talking about menstruation more normal.

Your comment has almost nothing to do with the actual article. It reads like pure reaction: you don't like feminism, so you don't like this.

It seems virtually certain that the "drop of blood" is more useful for issuing threats (jocular or serious) than for talking about menstruation, for the simple reason that there's a lot more threatening than there is talking about menstruation.

Calling blood "the symbol of the period" is overreaching a bit.

Calling blood "the symbol of the period" is overreaching a bit.

Keep in mind that the blood drop was the only thing the Unicode working group accepted. The more explicit symbol was more popular in the UK but rejected by the Unicode folks. If you're uncomfortable with a blood drop emoji being used in this way maybe you should direct your discomfort at the Unicode folks.

I'm not uncomfortable with a blood drop emoji being used this way. I'm calling the activists stupid for saying that this very general symbol is specifically symbolic of menstruation.

They haven't said that though. You misread the article.

A drop of blood is a traditional symbol for blood donors, and I wager that is the context where it will end up seeing the most use. That is certainly how I would use it.

But this is the only blood emoji there is. A drop of blood may be a traditional symbol for blood donors, but blood, the substance, is a traditional symbol for all kinds of different things.

And I'd expect this to get used anywhere someone wants to reference "blood" in a cutesy way.

It's very specifically a drop of blood, not a splatter or a smear or a stain.

Maybe it'll be used more in context of vampires.

There are a lot more women than there are blood donors. Periods, something that directly affects half the population at some point in their life, is going to be a much more common point of discussion than donating blood.

Your statement only holds if women talk about their periods. Which depending on culture, how they were raised, personality, ... definitely is not the case for all of them.

The same is true for blood donors. :)

Is a period a topic of normal conversation? “Hey Susan, are you going to the blood drive? Have you checked your glucose today? By the way, how’s that period of yours coming along?”

What’s there to say about periods? Seems a bit polite to be discussing periods in normal conversation; about as uncouth as one discussing bowel movements or mucus coloration. Of course there are legitimate reasons to talk about a period, but are those occurrences frequent enough to warrant a dedicated emoji?

> What’s there to say about periods?

I think girls should have the same level of access to education as boys, and currently they don't because girls need access to tampons and pads. Some schools do not provide these. Some schools do provide these but girls need to ask for them. (You can see how normalising talk would help there).

If a school does not provide these products a girl's family has to be able to afford them, and we know that curently in the UK some families feel they can't afford them. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/international-womens-day-...

One of the reasons people feel these products are too expensive is the VAT added to the price. People talk about periods because they're talking about tax reform.

Is a period a topic of normal conversation?


My understanding from reading the article is that they call it that, because the group that pushed for its addition to Unicode wanted it to carry that meaning (and preceded with some less ambiguous designs, which failed in committee).

I would think knife and skull emojis are more effective for threats.

Emojis are rarely used on their own.

Why limit yourself? ;)

The fact you think more people issue threats than talk about periods is a bit depressing.

Funny how these things can have different meanings. Here I read menstruation, threat and what not. If somebody sends this to me, I would instantly think:"Going to donate blood?". This droplet emoticon , or a variation of it, is very often used as the blood bank/transfusion center logo on my country, and based on Google, in some surrounding. You can see it around on t-shirts (donors get a t-shirt and they wear them proudly), vans for gathering blood away from the center, public announcements and calls.... Basically a like a logo, not sure how official. I felt humble the second I've seen this emoji.

FWIW, it's used in that manner in every single country I've lived in, US included.

Also, it looks like this is exactly how they got it adopted:

"Then in September 2018, Plan UK teamed up with NHS Blood and Transplant, the U.K. government's blood and organ donations service, and submitted a new proposal for a blood drop emoji. Unicode selected it as an official emoji in February."

It's like a word. It can be used in sentences to mean other things. To you, seeing it makes you feel humble on it's own - but emojis are hardly ever used alone.

I would imagine it being used in a variety of ways to communicate blood. I imagine some might not make people feel positive about it's use. That's language for you!

I noticed that someone criticised the blood droplet as "Ambiguous and multi functional". I've noticed a lot of this kind of attitude around discussions of race, LGBT and women's issues - activists pushing for "exclusive rights" to things like emojis, words, activities, places for specific groups. That isn't very inclusive. I feel like the most outspoken "social activists" have good intentions but don't really know what equality or inclusivity really mean.

They want to be perceived to have good intentions. There's a huge effort by these people to silence any discourse contrary to their increasing thinly defined criteria of acceptable behavioural norms. The far left is once again joining the far right as both anti-liberal and devoid of empathy.

This and the thread that follows are conspicuous for the fact that the group being discussed is never defined. 'Social activists'. 'These people'. It's a good discipline to argue against actual people and their beliefs, not a vague phantasm of them. Your argument - to associate the words of one unnamed person with an large and multifarious politics - is equally unhelpful.

Bit of an odd response because I did define them as "Social activists" (for want of a better term, but it does the trick), which is a far cry from "these people". If you don't understand what I mean, that doesn't mean it's necessarily inadequate, just that we haven't communicated very well.

And the unnamed person - you can easily find in the article as a tweet. But it wasn't important to name the person because my intention was to draw attention to the attitude behind the words, which I feel is more important than the particular person behind that tweet. No point in muddying the waters.

I agree. That's when I disconnect from the discussion.

I think everyone deserves an equal stab at life. Nobody should be discriminated against for their beliefs or what's in their trousers... But the methods used by some to reach that end are appalling.

Equality isn't accomplished by publicly shaming everyone for every little social infraction. It deliberately excludes the people you need to improve to achieve equality. That turns your cause into a circlejerk and ultimately hurts those who you're trying to represent.

But that's what politics is these days.

Red Vs Blue. Us Vs Them.

Edit: I've witnessed the score of most of these comments fluctuate wildly. It's a shame that inclusivity has to be so divisive.

> That's when I disconnect from the discussion.

That might be good for you, but each rational being we lose in the fight against extremism weakens our overall chances of escaping this madness within our lifetimes.

If someone tells me I shouldn't be participating in a discussion about womens' or transgender rights because I'm a cis white male, walking away from the discussion doesn't do anything. It's like quitting your job after you've already been fired. I feel compelled to impress upon people that I will not be silenced based on the color of my skin or my sexuality, that "reverse racism" really doesn't exist because it's still just called racism.

It's incredibly frustrating and fills me with anxiety, and was a huge component of why I left Facebook and other social media...

One of the final straws was in a thread about domestic abuse. Someone asked a question of how false rape charges could possibly ruin a man's life, because it seemed impossible to them that there could be lasting consequences for false rape accusations.

I shared a story about my own childhood abuse as well as the time I was physically assaulted by a sexual partner, which led to a large portion of my friends turning against me in the belief that I had hurt someone. My life was majorly affected in a negative way by this person's assault and subsequent defamation of my character. It could have been even worse as multiple people encouraged her to go to the police, but I made it clear to her I would fight tooth and nail to expose her and get her jail time for a false accusation.

I was then bombarded with hundreds of people tagging in from various "support groups" calling me a liar, saying I probably deserved it, that it probably wasn't as bad as I said, that I probably assaulted her first, declaring that I am likely to be a future rapist solely on the fact that I'm a cis white male (really wish I was making that up) etc etc. Literally all of the victim-blaming behavior that people complain is the bane of inclusion and understanding... came out in waves. Eventually I was banned from the thread. I felt ashamed for absolutely no reason at all. These people had successfully shamed and invalidated me for being a victim, based on the color of my skin, gender and orientation. I lost several real-life friends over that incident as well, and it wasn't long after that my Facebook was gone for good.

I don't disagree that moderates are required, but —as you highlight— these causes can only police themselves. Anything else is seen as an attack on the cause itself.

It'd be great if our humanity allowed us to accept criticism and contradiction at face value, but that is demonstrably not the case.

I don't know a way around this.

Yes, we live in the age of Inclusion by Exclusion. It's maddeningly cognitively dissonant and the Overton Window appears to have split in half, with extremists on either end ripping logical, neutral people to shreds over not picking a side and thus "working with the enemy" or "being indecisive"


Dismissing a position as "virtue signaling" is fundamentally lazy.

Ironically, aren't you "virtue signaling" right now about how you're sincere enough to be able to look down on people who do it?

Virtue signaling is contagious; it infects everything that touches it. My response here will be seen as virtue signaling too, simply because the concept was invoked upthread.

Personally, I see a problem less with signals and more with how people make them and respond to them. Aforementioned attempt to appropriate a generic symbol for specific movement is an example of hostile behaviour. Sane people would roll their eyes and carry on with their days, but on the Internet, it starts to become dangerous to let this nonsense pass unchallenged, as then you might find yourself on the business end of Twitter pitchforks after saying something you're unaware that some activist group apparently has dibs on.

> aren't you "virtue signaling" right now about how you're sincere enough to be able to look down on people who do it?

No. I’m just making an observation about a supposed movement’s true motives. I am in no way trying to appear superior or “better” (more virtuous) as a result of it.

How do you know "true motives"? Are you a part of said movement? If you're just making an observation you have no better knowledge of their true motives than any of the rest of us reading here.

Inclusivity is about wanting to better include minorities or disabled people in spaces where they may have been discriminated against and affecting their livelihoods, e.g. the workplace.

Using a definition of inclusivity here without a consideration for power dynamics between the parties involved is totally uncharitable: as you've observed in your comment, there is no barrier to actually denying "exclusive rights" to activists, so it's more a matter of respect to the people who want to use the symbol (e.g. the pride flag, which few people have issues with it being used to exclusively represent LGBT groups) to make their cause more visible, rather than a lack of "inclusivity".

Inclusivity is a word with a broad meaning, and that's not it. Has it also been recently redefined in terms of "... + power (and we'll tell you who has how much power!)" in the social studies dictionary, same as racism?

1. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/inclusivity

> The practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of minority groups.

2. Without an understanding of power, is there a useful definition of "inclusivity"?

Or is it just a whitewashed feelgood platitude that can't mean anything in the end, because if you include everyone, including people who are decidedly discriminating against you, that it constitutes some ideal of "inclusiveness"?

Lets follow that dictionary and looking up minority groups.

> A small group of people within a community or country, differing from the main population in race, religion, language, or political persuasion.

With women being slightly more than 50% and men being slightly less than 50% of the main population in the country, that will makes men the minority group.

Women is not a minority group according to any dictionary.

You just gave a useful definition of inclusivity, which doesn't rely on power in the sense that it is employed in this context. Or, alternatively, excluding others is a power in and of itself - a very common power to have, and people do that all the time to those who have other powers over them (sometimes for that very reason!).

But no, it doesn't mean that you have to include people who are decidedly discriminating against you. Which, again, has nothing to do with their power to actually do so, systemic or otherwise. For example, an NBP black supremacist can be rightly rejected because they're known for their anti-Semitic rants with threats of genocide, despite the fact that they have no ability to actually carry them out.

While countries with traditional ideograph-based languages (China, Japan, etc) are slowly turning to the alphabet to simplify their written language, we are reinventing ideographs, poorly and politically.

Quite fascinating, but also incredibly sad.


A) Emojis are better ideographs than CJK characters, not poorer ones. This is a horse, recognisably: [imagine the horse emoji here... :-) ]. This not so much in my view: 馬.

B) Nobody is proposing to replace all words with hackneyed emojis. (“Although” sort of sounds like “old owl”, so let’s replace it by an owl with gray hair, maybe sitting on top of a mouth so we can disambiguate it from a reference to an owl.)

C) The notion that CJK characters represent ideas, not words & sounds, (embedded in the term “ideograph”) has been extensively criticised, eg by John DeFrancis in his The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy.


Chinese characters pretty unambiguously represent syllables and not meanings. [1]

Japanese characters are the other way around. They have semantics, but the only way to know the intended pronunciation is to look at the specific sentence in which one is being used. It's fair to say that a kanji in isolation doesn't have a pronunciation. This is the reason the Japanese weren't able to get by with just the characters -- Japanese text makes liberal use of kana to make up for the fact that kanji are, like emoji, all semantics and no pronunciation or syntax.

[1] Well, they do represent meaning too, much as English spelling does, but that's incidental to the way they function.

Actually, it's more like hieroglyphics.[0]

0) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardiner's_sign_list

Edit: And there are tons of Unicode characters.[1]

1) https://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U13000.pdf

Something that seems to be missing from both the article, and the discussion here, is the idea I've heard elsewhere, that to signal menstruation you would combine the blood droplet with a moon emoji.

The blood droplet emoji by itself has plenty of other uses; blood donation, etc.

It still seems a bit euphemistic and doesn't accomplish the goal, but a good step in the right direction I suppose.


  > A new "people holding hands" emoji will let users mix and match 
  > different skin tones and genders, with 171 possible combinations.[1]
This reminds me of the article "Code Inflation". [2]

[1] https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/692260599/interracial-couples...

[2] https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=7057573

"Code inflation" talks about programs expanding even when they already can do everything needed (e.g. true going from empty to 8k bytes). That's not the case here. These combinations didn't exist before, so the functionality is expanded, not just the code size.

I love emoji but they aren't needed for anything. You can always discuss periods using ordinary words.

I have to admit that whilst emoji are fun the apparently endless growth in them combined with the way they break essentially every assumed invariant about text and thus create explosions of bugs all over previously working software is ... a bit concerning.

At this point, why not just define a set of code points that let you embed an SVG into the character stream? It'd result in fewer cases of broken text where new emoji are rendered by apps that are all of six months out of date. Actually defining an endless series of semantic code points just seems like a dead end for the Unicode Consortium that opens it up to relentless attacks by activists and political nonsense because it's changed its mandate from encoding languages to defining new ones.

> embed an SVG into the character stream

I really think that we should've gone this direction as soon as it became clear people would never be satisfied with any finite set of emoji. SVG might be a bit verbose for transmission over SMS, so there's room for figuring out some simplified and more compact encoding, but this would've prevented the almost all the problems we're having with emojis today.

The true program in the article was merely an example to illustrate one particular instance of code inflation. Unless it is some incredibly simple program like true/false, most code is always designed to be evolved and to acquire new functionality over time. The key is to know when to stop, and add functionality in a sensical fashion. I would argue most of the new emoji combinations supplied will rarely, if ever be used, so just because one can add them, doesn't mean they should.

Multiple modifiers on one glyph? How do you implement that in a font? Or are they all separate glyphs? Overlapping characters? Strange kerning? Negative-width non-breaking space? Reverse direction for one hand?

Gender modifiers and skin tone modifiers already exist.

The two person holding hands emoji is actually implemented as person (with modifiers) + zero with joiner + handshake + zero width joiner + person (with modifiers)

Which is great, because it's backwards compatible, showing up as 3 emojis unless the font has special handling.

I’m just disappointed that they haven’t yet implemented eye and hair color options...

OK, so I'm male, and sometimes I'm clumsy, or act too impulsively.

So if I used emojis, this one would be about "Oh shit, I'm bleeding again." Head wounds are the most impressive, in my experience. Just a scratch, and there's blood everywhere. I've shown up at meetings, with blood running down my forehead. But hey, they heal quickly, too.

Outrage culture at its finest. NPR cites a few tweets. Let's analyze: [1] has 13 likes; [2] has 8. No one cares about emojis this much. Real activists (not Twitter keyboard warriors) don't care about emojis, they care about, you know, actual social progress. It took this group like 2 years to get 54,600 signatures when joke petitions like [3] are in the same ballpark. I mean, give me a break.

But articles like this are built from the ground up to (a) get clicks and (b) get people fired up in the comments section to, you guessed it, get more clicks. Journalism, if you can even call it that anymore, is in a sorry state right now. And instead of proving Trump's inane "fake news" diatribes wrong, we have highly-respected news outlets essentially printing garbage like this.

[1] https://twitter.com/PlanUK/status/869632011316727808?ref_src...

[2] https://twitter.com/Cearaa/status/1093430548171841541?ref_sr...

[3] https://petitions.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/petition/secu...

I'm not sure what people object to in your post, but it's important to call news outlets out when they use some random tweet that 50 people have seen as a "representative" view. If you use any tweets you can pretend almost anything is a common opinion.

The existence of this story and any flaws that may or may not exist in it do not represent the state of journalism as a whole.

Actually they do; this kind of click-bait yellow journalism has become the norm, not the exception. From Breitbart to Huffington Post, they all do it.

Neither Beritbart nor Huffington post are particularly reputable journalistic outlets, they're both at the extremes of the political spectrum. My point is that you can't condemn the entire discipline of journalism based on a single story.

There are thousands of examples with similar style across the "mainstream" media. At what point can we judge the state of journalism as a whole?


Are you assuming their gender?


Yes, because those are clearly the same thing. A completely natural, healthy process, and a medical procedure. I know that when I see a smiley face emoji, I think that we should have a tooth extraction emoji.

We have an emoji for both, actually. It's U+0020, "SPACE".

Because we need that...why?


I don't really understand what you're saying, who should keep their problems to themselves? Are you saying you're offended that this emoji exists because you don't want anyone messaging you about periods?


In what sense is menstruation stigma in the developing world not a 'real' problem?

Do you know that girls are excluded from school when they have their period? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seclusion_of_girls_at_puberty

Or that girls avoid school because they cannot afford tampons or pads? This doesn't just happen in poor countries, it happens in the UK: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/international-womens-day-...

I‘m sure that adding a blood drop Emoji is the most efficient solution for these problems.


If it helps women and girls talk about it then yes, it's one of the small things that will help.

Do you know that in the UK girls consistently do better at schools than boys year after year? Whatever problems they have it doesn't seem to affect them much.

Worry about your own problems. 75% of suicides in the UK are men. 70% of homeless in the UK are men. This is happening while people like you are busy worrying about whether women can effectively communicate about periods on whatsapp.

I work in suicide prevention - I'm well aware of the statistics and I spend most of my time looking at the wider determinants of mental ill-health and suicidality in middle aged men.

> Worry about your own problems.

> men, men, more men

So should we worry about our own problems, or about men's problems?

Our own. I'm a man and virtually everyone here is a man too.

> virtually everyone here is a man too.

Unsurprisnig when we consider the absolutely toxic arseholes who flood threads like these.

Emoji is the mistake that will kill Unicode mark my words.

"2^16 characters should be enough for anyone" - Bill Gates, probably, when adding UCS2 support to Windows.

I'm not really sure if these new emoji are beneficial to the medium as a whole. In many ways the trend toward more inclusive emojis is a good thing (the addition of male/female and skin color variations was a huge improvement), but there is also a cost of emoji bloat.

According to the article, the new blood drop emoji is justified because someone would need to cobble together some sequence of emoji to express the same concept. In many ways this problem is also the very reason that people enjoy using Emojis. The limitations of the medium requires creativity and humor from both the creator and the receiver. Having highly specified emojis can also take away from the fun of this, while also making it more difficult to explore the full set of available emoji.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact