Emojis and their meaning

The following emoji categories are sorted by group. You'll find all current WhatsApp and Facebook smileys as well as a description of their meaning. You can use the various emojis on any Apple, Android, and Windows device. Have fun with diving into the colorful world of emojis!

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What is the difference between emojis, emoticons and smileys?

We all know the funny yellow faces and use them almost every day. They make communication easier for us, replace entire words and make our chats or emails more colorful. But what is their correct name? Mostly, the terms emoji and emoticon are used interchangeably. However, there are differences between these terms.

What is an emoticon? :-D

The English words “emotion” and “icon” form the term emoticon.
Short strings of symbols, letters or numbers are intended to represent facial expressions and postures. Emoticons can liven up the text and convey moods or emotional states.
:-D means laughing or a big grin. If surprised, we use :-O and <3 stands for the heart and feelings.

The archetype of the emoticon is the stick man face. In 1982, a misunderstood joke among physicists led to the question of how irony might be characterized in written communication. Scott Fohlman then suggested the combination :-) with an instruction to tilt one’s head to read it.

First Emoticons from 1881
Emoticons from 1881, "satirical magazine Puck"

What is a smiley? :-D

The term of course comes from the English verb "to smile". The smiley is the graphic representation of a facial expression. In written communication, the person writing expresses that he or she is delighted or joking.

In the 1960s, commercial artist Harvey Ball drew a smiling face with a circle, two dots and a curved line. This is how the symbol of high spirits came about. However, he forgot to legally safeguard the sign and it quickly gained popularity. The originally yellow, smiling face became an expression of rave culture. There are now a multitude of additions and variations to express different feelings.

Harvey Ball’s smiley
Harvey Ball’s invention – the smiley

What is an emoji? 😊

The step from the stick man face to the image took place in Japan. The term is composed of an "e" for image and "moji" for character. Inspired by the manga world, software engineer Shigetaka Kurita developed 176 emojis in the 1990s. He was working on a pager service for a Japanese mobile provider and thereby wanted to boost its marketing among young people.

Emojis are images or pictographs. Facial expressions and gestures are shown in the form of faces and people. Objects, food, activities, animals, plants, places and other associations can also be displayed. This allows for more expressive communication. Emoticons are now automatically converted into emojis in word processing programs or online services. To display emojis, the Unicode is converted into a graphic. Emojis have been available on our mobile phones since 2010.

In contrast to emoticons, emojis offer a larger variety of facial expressions. They also offer options for adaptation, such as hair color. The graphic no longer needs to be rotated by 90°. Emojis are very popular and are regularly used by 92% of Internet users.

In 2015, the great popularity of emojis led to the Oxford Dictionary choosing an emoji as the Word of the Year. Due to its overcoming of language barriers, the face with tears of joy 😂 chosen as the most used emoji. On July 17, people celebrate the unofficial World Emoji Day.

Graphic representation of emoticons
Graphic representation of emoticons – emojis

Use and effect of emojis, emoticons and smileys

Communication with our counterpart is not just about the words pronounced. For we also communicate in a nonverbal way, that is, without using spoken language. This happens through our facial expressions, our gestures, our body language and the tone of our voice. We look to the side when we're embarrassed. Widen our eyes in surprise or raise our hands in alarm. Wrinkle our nose in disapproval or let our voice ooze with irony.

Our communication increasingly turns digital. We write emails and we chat on WhatsApp, Facebook or Snapchat. What we can express in words or in a nonverbal way in real life is accomplished by emojis with rather short texts in real-time communication. They add an emotional level to the text and can prevent misunderstandings. The majority of men and women say that they can express emotions better through emojis than through words.

In addition to the various facial expressions and gestures, there are also emojis that depict objects. These can help the other person to understand the counterpart’s current situation.
A briefcase 💼 rather stands for the job, the soccer ball ⚽ for leisure and the palm tree 🌴 for vacation.

The number of emojis is also increasing. We can choose between hair colors 👩‍🦰 👩‍🦳, with professional emojis between a male 👨‍⚕️ and a female 👩‍⚕️ variant and with meals between Italian 🍝 and Japanese 🍣.

The most used emojis

More than half of the emojis sent are faces, followed by loving or romantic emojis and the hand gestures. The majority of the emojis used worldwide are positive.

Top 5 most popular emoji categories worldwide:
  • 1. Happy faces (including wink 😉, kisses 😘, face with heart-shaped eyes 😍, smirk 😀)
  • 2. Sad faces (including sad and angry emoji)
  • 3. Hearts (includes all colors and the broken heart emoji)
  • 4. Hand gestures (includes thumbs up, clapping hands, peace sign, etc.)
  • 5. Romantic (includes kiss imprint, love letter, couple kisses)

With positive emojis, the face with tears of joy 😂 is by far the most popular, followed by the face sending a kiss 😘, the smiling face with heart-shaped eyes 😍 and the smiling face with smiling eyes 😊.

The most commonly used negative emoji is the loudly crying face 😭, followed by the pensive face 😔, the scared stiff face 😱 and the displeased face 😒.

Possible misunderstandings in the use of emojis, emoticons and smileys

We usually keep it short in real-time communication. In written texts, misunderstandings happen more easily because of the lack of nonverbal communication. What was meant ironically might be taken seriously. A joke or a wordplay is not taken in or is misunderstood. You get your wires crossed. But the pitfalls are not only in communication.

It wasn’t meant that way at all!

In texts, emojis complement nonverbal communication. We use the smiley laughing tears when we make fun of something. The winking emoji takes the edge off a statement. We blush because of a compliment. With this, we try to reduce misunderstandings arising from the interpretation of a message.

The meaning of emojis offers many possibilities of interpretation. Some are easy to realize, others difficult to interpret if you do not know the original meaning. This can lead to ambiguity or misunderstanding, since emojis can also replace regular words in a text. Excessive use of emojis can also lead to confusion with your counterpart.

The possibilities of expression also depend on the emojis available. If the right emoji is missing, you have to improvise. Sometimes emojis are even hijacked and used completely differently than the creator had intended. For example, instead of using them in conjunction with a garden or nutrition, a zucchini or an eggplant are introduced as a phallus symbol without further ado.

Cultural differences in emoji meanings

Emojis offer a lot of room for interpretation and can be construed in different ways. Because of the many different cultures, the scope for interpretation is even increasing. Because the meaning of the funny faces and gestures is not the same throughout the world. In western countries, the sign for everything’s under control 👌 means that everything is OK. In Japan, this gesture is used to represent money.

The face with steam coming from its nose 😤 is used by Europeans and Americans to express anger or rage. In Japan, on the other hand, it stands for triumph.

136 Popular Whatsapp Smileys

136 popular Whatsapp emojis