Quirks and Limitations of Emoji Flags

by @edent | # # # | 1 comment | Read ~1,274 times.

This blog post contains emoji which your system may not be able to display. You may see broken text, weird symbols, or other buggy rendering.

The Transgender Flag is a draft candidate for Emoji 13.0 under the name Blue, Pink, and White Flag.
A number of platforms include an image for this emoji, but do not show it on the emoji keyboard. As of June 2019 this is now supported on Twitter platforms that use Twemoji.
Emojipedia

The (proposed) Transgender Flag looks like this (image) or like this 🏳️‍⚧️ (emoji). It is a composite character consisting of four elements:

  • 🏳️ waving white flag (U+1F3F3)
  • Variation selector-16 (U+FE0F)
  • ⚧️ male with stroke and male and female sign (U+26A7)
  • Variation selector-16 (U+FE0F)

The Variation Selector basically says, "treat the preceding character as a colourful emoji rather than a normal character."

So, how do emoji flags work? There are, broadly speaking, 4 types of emoji flags.

Natural Flags

There are seven flag characters in Unicode:

🏁🎌🏳️🏴⛳⛿🚩

They are independent characters. Use them however you like.

Country Flags

(Almost) every country has an emoji flag in Unicode. Here's the UK's 🇬🇧
Rather than take up loads of space in the spec with each flag, Unicode uses "Regional Identifier Letters." Take the country's two letter ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code, place them next to each other with no spaces, and a flag will magically appear.

The flag of "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" is the symbol 🇬 and 🇧 placed together. Not 🇺 and 🇰 - because that would make life too easy!

Regional Flags

Wales is a country within the UK. It has its own flag 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿.
Texas is a state within the USA. It has its own flag 🏴󠁵󠁳󠁴󠁸󠁿.

The way these flags are constructed is different from the country flags.

Wales is 🏴 (Waving Black Flag) then the "Tag Latin Small" letters G, B, W, L, S, then the "Cancel Tag" symbol.

Texas uses Tag Latin Small Letters U, S, T, X, and then the Cancel Tag.

The "Tag Latin" block was originally intended for the invisible mark-up of documents - that's no longer recommended. They are now only used for modifying emoji.

Most systems do not support regional flags other than England, Scotland, and Wales.

Symbolic Flags

Finally, we get on to flags which are in widespread use, but don't belong to geographical or regional identities.

  • The Pirate Flag 🏴‍☠️ is 🏴, variation selector-16, and (Skull and Crossbones)
  • The Pride / Rainbow Flag is 🏳️‍🌈 - this uses the white 🏳 flag, variation selector-16, and 🌈 (Rainbow).

So, there are six possible ways to write a flag in Unicode:

  1. a unique character,
  2. a pair of letters,
  3. a black flag and tag characters,
  4. a black flag with a variation and an emoji
  5. a white flag with a variation and an emoji
  6. a white flag with a variation and a character with a variation

Limitations

No historic flags. The flag of the USA has changed several times over the country's history - more recently the flag of Afghanistan has changed. The emoji flag is always the most recent version.

Flags of countries which no longer exist. Countries change, merge, and collapse. There's no flag for the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia for example.

Contentious flags. The emoji flag of Taiwan 🇹🇼 is banned in China. There are regions around the world which have their own flag, but aren't always recognised as distinct countries.

Counting is hard. To a human, a single flag looks like one character 🇬🇧. But to a computer, it could look like several. On a service like Twitter which has a 280 character limitation that can cause confusion for the user. The number of characters a user thinks they've written may be at odds with what the computer says.

The biggest limitation is the time it takes for emoji to filter their way down to every computer. Hopefully you'll soon see 🏳️‍⚧️ as a flag, rather than an odd looking emoji sequence.

One thought on “Quirks and Limitations of Emoji Flags

  1. Doug Ewell says:

    The flag of “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” is the symbol 🇬 and 🇧 placed together. Not 🇺 and 🇰 – because that would make life too easy!

    It’s because “UK” was reserved by ISO 3166/MA, back before the breakup of the Soviet Union, so that the United Kingdom and the Ukrainian SSR wouldn’t have a turf war over the combination “UK”.

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