Word Emoji Day 2019 — The Whole Scoop on Emoji Poop

A woman's friend misused the poop emoji (or actually a word that goes with it) and she's wondering whether to tell him.

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read

Here’s a voicemail question that made me laugh:

“Hi. I just got a text message that said, 'Holy ___,' and it had the poop emoticon, and 'holy' was spelled 'WHOLLY.' And the person who sent it to me, I know English isn't his first language. So I was gonna write back, 'You, know it's really HOLY poop emoticon,' and then I thought, well, maybe he really means entirely poop emoticon ... is there a rule about holy [bleep]? Anyway, it's Emily from the Bronx. Thank you so much. I love your Podcast.”

I was going to answer your question anyway, but it turns out that it’s also quite timely because July 17 is World Emoji Day, chosen because July 17 is the date that appears on the calendar emoji. Makes sense.

First, we’ll talk about the emoji, and then we’ll talk about the spelling of “wholly.”

What Does the Poop Emoji Mean?

The poop emoji is pretty straightforward. It means what it looks like, and people use it both literally and figuratively. It first appeared in Japan in 1997 on a phone from the carrier SoftBank that turned out not to be very popular. It was later included on other platforms and was eventually added to the Unicode set in 2010. It’s popular, although it’s not in most lists of top-10 emoji that I could find.

Why Is the Poop Emoji Popular in Japan?

And my editor, Karen Hertzberg, told me this fun fact: along with poop emoji, poop trinkets are also a thing in Japanese culture. The Japanese word for poop is “unko,” and the word for “luck” starts with the same "oon" sound, so little poop images and trinkets became associated with good luck in Japan. 

How to Learn More About Emoji

If you want to know more about emoji, I did a fun interview last year with Jane Solomon, a lexicographer at dictionary.com, when that site started adding definitions for emoji. You can find it at QuickAndDirtyTips.com by searching for “emoji.”

Is ‘Wholly Poop’ a New Eggcorn?

I thought your call was especially interesting because it’s the first example I’ve heard of an emoji being used in something linguists call an “eggcorn.” I wrote about eggcorns a few years ago:

The term was coined in 2003 after a discussion on the Language Log website about a woman who misheard the word “acorn,” a nut that comes from the oak tree, as “eggcorn.” At the time, there wasn’t a name for substituting a similar-sounding word or part of a word that also makes logical sense. It’s a mistake, a mishearing, but an especially understandable mistake. For example, you could imagine that an egg could grow into a chicken like the oak nut grows into a tree. Other examples of eggcorns include writing “toe the line” as “t-o-w the line” instead of “t-o-e the line,” and saying someone “woofs down” food instead of “wolfs down” food.

In Emily’s example, her friend confused “wholly,” meaning “completely,” with “holy,” meaning “sacred.,” But, as she noted, it could actually make logical sense either way. It could mean what he probably meant, “holy bleep,” but it could also mean “wholly, like completely, poopy, like terrible.” Completely terrible.

Normally, I don’t recommend correcting people’s grammar, but if you are good friends and can do it in a nice way, I think in this case your friend might appreciate you letting him know that he got it wrong and that the mistake is really interesting.

And at least he didn’t make the mistake another listener told me about last year. Jennifer wrote that her daughter’s second-grade teacher told the class that “she had been ending all her text messages to close friends and loved ones with the poop emoji because she thought it was a chocolate kiss.” Oops!

So if you thought it was silly for dictionary.com to start defining emoji, there’s a good counter-argument. Now we just need people to start actually looking them up, so they don’t make those kinds of mistakes!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times bestseller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.