Five things you might not know about emojis

So, I’ve been looking into emojis a bit lately. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt that you might also find interesting.

1. The ‘emo’ bit doesn’t mean emotion

Despite how it looks, there’s apparently no connection between the words ‘emoji’ and ‘emotion’, according to Oxford Living Dictionaries. Actually the word ‘emoji’ comes from two Japanese words: ‘e’, meaning ‘picture’ and ‘moji’, meaning ‘character’ (in the sense of a written Japanese character) (Evans 2017, pp. 18-19; Oxford Living Dictionaries).

On the other hand, ‘emoticon’ is related to the word ‘emotion’, being a combination of the words ‘emotion’ and ‘icon’ (Oxford Living Dictionaries). That being said, ‘emoji’ and ‘emoticon’ should not be used interchangeably because, as I discovered, there’s a key difference (read on to find out).

Crowded close-up of emoji face cookies
New York Social Media Week- doin’ cookies right! by 1000heads (CC BY 2.0) No changes to image.

2. Emojis and emoticons are not the same thing

Can you tell your emojis from your emoticons? Although they both involve smiley faces, they’re not the same thing. Emojis are those cute little pictures of faces and objects that you can add to your electronic communication. Strictly speaking they are better classified as glyphs (Evans 2017, p. 12).

Image comparing emoticons and emojis
Old emoticons by J.M. (CC BY-SA 2.0) No changes to image.


Emoticons are the emotive faces built out of punctuation marks (Oxford Living Dictionaries), or as they are described in Media & Society, ‘graphic representations of emotions, used in communication that is not face to face’ (O’Shaughnessy, Stadler and Casey 2017, p. 124). Although they are different, I have noticed in my own digital media use that some platforms will automatically convert : ) into a smiley face emoji. Conversely, when I write full words in a text message, my phone suggests an emoji to use instead.

3. You can now enjoy classic novels in emoji

What do Alice In Wonderland and Moby Dick have in common? They’re available in emoji. Yes, you read right. Lewis Carroll’s classic novel is now available as an emoji-filled poster titled Wonderland, by Joe Hale. Herman Melville’s tale has been re-told in emoji under the title Emoji Dick, edited and complied by Fred Benenson. I have seen excerpts of both texts, and they both pushed my ability to interpret emojis to the limits. I don’t think I would have followed them at all if I didn’t already know the stories. For this reason, I agree with Evans when he says that Wonderland demonstrates why ‘Emoji just doesn’t function in the same way as a language’ (2017, p. 17).

There are also mixed views on whether it is appropriate to translate or re-tell such books in emojis. Reflecting on Emoji Dick, Danesi acknowledges both sides of the argument, noting that traditionalists may see such an interpretation as irreverent, but that conversely, it may bring the text to new audiences (2017, p. 146). Perhaps it is too early to tell. It does, however, bring to mind the broader question of how and when it is appropriate to use emojis (but that is for another post).

4. Emojis could be using up extra characters

When you’ve only got limited characters, every letter counts. Think about the need to be concise in early SMS communications. People created abbreviations and acronyms, left out vowels and punctuation, and replaced sounds with numbers (O’Shaughnessy, Stadler and Casey 2017, p. 124). The question ‘are you going to be late?’ became ‘R U going 2 B L8’. A similar brevity is sometimes required on social media. But could emojis be secretly chewing through your character count?

While we might be selecting one little picture, behind the scenes, many emojis are in fact composite characters (Evans 2017, p. 90). Using the example of a female singer, Evans explains that this is actually the single emojis of a female and a microphone, then add a skin tone modifier and this counts as three characters (2017, p. 90). Curious, I thought I’d test this out. Sure enough, the emojis I tried did count as more than one character!

5. What I send might not be what you see

Earlier this year I discovered that any given emoji doesn’t necessarily look the same on another platform. Because each platform is responsible for designing and implementing its own version of approved emojis, there is no standardised image for each emoji across all platforms (Evans 2017, pp. 63, 208). I like the way Miller describes each variation as a distinctive ‘emoji font’ (2016). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this can lead to different interpretations of the same message, depending on the image that you see.

Miller and her colleagues studied how emojis are interpreted and the potential for miscommunication. They found that misunderstandings can occur when recipients interpret the same depiction of the emoji that the sender sent, and that the possibility of misunderstanding is increased when the sender and the recipient are using different platforms, resulting in different images being displayed for the same emoji (Miller et al. 2016). In some cases, this can be as significant as understanding an emoji as the opposite emotion of the intended one (Miller et al. 2016). You might like to download and read the study, or check out Miller’s article with emojis.


So how did you go? I hope you found something to spark your curiosity!



Danesi, M 2017, The semiotics of emoji, Bloomsbury, London.

Evans, V 2017, The emoji code, 1st US edn, Picador, New York.

Miller, H 2016, Investigating the potential for miscommunication using emoji, GroupLens, retrieved 8 August 2018, <>.

Miller, H, Thebault-Spieker, J, Chang, S, Johnson, I, Terveen L & Hecht, B 2016, “Blissfully happy” or “ready to fight”: varying interpretations of emoji, GroupLens Research, University of Minnesota, retrieved 8 August 2018, <>.

O’Shaughnessy, M, Stadler, J & Casey, S 2017 (2016), Media & society, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Oxford Living Dictionaries 2015, Word of the year 2015, Oxford University Press, retrieved 8 August 2018, <>.

22 thoughts on “Five things you might not know about emojis

  1. Morgan

    Deploying my smirk emoji to snicker at Emoji Dick ?
    Great post. I didn’t really know the difference between emojis and emoticons (and I’m still probably going to get them confused, but thanks for the info!)
    The difference between emojis cross operating systems and platforms is really frustrating, I’m glad you highlighted it because it is one of those really small things that drive me crazy.

    1. lauren Post author

      Hi Morgan, thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found some useful info. It seems we have a shared frustration in differing emojis. 🙂

  2. Jillian Carlson

    Hi Lauren, this is a really informative and interesting blog post. I especially love the format, it was really clear and easy to follow.

    I find the miscommunication caused by people’s interpretations of emojis really interesting. This immediately came to mind when you mentioned that Alice in Wonderland and Moby Dick are available in emoji. Everyone would be bringing a different history to reading those ‘texts’ and so they would surely have different interpretations.

    Your post inspired me to go on and do a little more reading on emojis (I never knew they could be so interesting!). I found this an article called ‘Emoji in Advertising’ by Marcel Danesi from the University of Toronto (who’s other work you’ve referenced, I noticed!). In it I learned, what seems to be a well known fact to everyone but me, that Oxford Dictionary named ‘Crying face while laughing’ emoji the 2015 word of the year!

    1. lauren Post author

      Thanks, Jillian. I found Marcel Danesi’s book very interesting and useful, so I will likely look at more of his work. As for picking an emoji as word of the year, I think this will be discussed more in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

  3. Victoria Phillips

    I love this! Normally when I see a “5 things you didn’t know” post, I roll my eyes, because they’re usually jam packed with things… well… everyone knows! This blog post was informative and well written. Scholarly enough to be credible but conversational enough to be fun. I would like to see an excerpt from Moby Dick written in emojis though!!

    1. lauren Post author

      So glad you enjoyed this, Victoria. I didn’t start out doing a “5 things you didn’t know” post, I just found I was learning so many interesting things!

  4. Louisa Irvin

    This was such an interesting read, Lauren! I had no idea of the history of emojis, and this completely blew my mind! I admit that I use them frequently, I think they’re just such an easy way of purveying tone in a message, with minimal word count. It’s also a great way to make something sound more casual and a lot less harsh than a full stop for some reason? Your blog was easy to follow, and there are lots of interactive links which really keeps the reader engaged!
    The one thing I would suggest is maybe a more in-depth explainer, maybe a video showing some of the emojis on a phone and what they represent? Kind of like an emoji dictionary like this online one:
    Great blog, you learn something new everyday! I feel like I want to add emojis to this comment now!

    1. lauren Post author

      Great points, Louisa. I am planning some more in-depth type posts, and I’d like to do a video, too. So much media to make, too little time. I’ll see if I can come up with something for the next post.

  5. Darcy O'Loughlin

    Hi Lauren!
Great post! I have seen a copy of Romeo and Juliet transcribed to emoticons and like you, if I hadn’t known the story before hand I would not have been able to make any sense from it! I do agree with the idea of standardisation of emojis, so many times I have lost meaning and context of conversations because of a misunderstanding with emojis! I would love to have seen images of example text that has been translated to emojis! Your writing and structure of your blog is great! Can’t wait to read more of your material!


    1. lauren Post author

      Thanks, Darcy. There are so many more topics to explore with emojis. I’ll be looking at conveying meaning more in an upcoming post. Maybe I’ll even have a go at some kind of emoji translation next time.

  6. Shaoyun Sha

    Hi Lauren! Thanks for sharing these interesting facts about emojis! Emoji has changed the way we communicate after it was published. On the one hand, it could help us easier understand each other with fewer words. On the other hand, it could also lead to misunderstandings because of the differences between culture or platforms. It even reminds another interesting fact, instead of using emoji, people in East Asia (Taiwan, Chinese and Japan) relatively prefer using stickers. Moreover, lots of users are crazy for special series of stickers and buy them instantly when new sets are released. Some of my friends even have bought too many stickers that they can’t even count. It also becomes a business model that creators can publish their own stickers and make profits by selling them on messaging apps. Therefore, I think it would be interesting to investigate how people from western and eastern cultures use emoji differently.
    I hope you find my comment useful to you! I’m looking forward to reading more pieces from you!

    1. lauren Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shao-Yun. You make a great point about the differences between cultures and across platforms. This is certainly something I am keen to explore further.

  7. Sanjanaa Chithambaranathan

    Hey Lauren,
    Amazing and extremely informative blog post. Emojis have definitely become an integral part of day to day communications in the digital age. I completely agree that there is possibility for miscommunication as the message conveyed can be different from what the receiver understands. For instance, i think of the inverted emoji as a sarcastic and rude way of responding while many may say it’s just another crazy smiling emoji. Off late there have stickers and bitmojis that looks like some form of extension to emojis, maybe you talk about how they have even become animated and gif like.
    The use of emotions to re-tell classic tales was not something i was aware of, it seems really interesting .I might try reading a few.

    Overall, this was a great informative piece, Great job! 🙂

    1. lauren Post author

      Hi Sanjanaa, thanks so much for your comments. A few people have mentioned to me about stickers and other similar developments, so I agree this might be interesting to look into. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. Julia Linh Tran

    Wow! This topic is so fascinating! I never know the history of emojis and for such a long time I’ve thought ‘emojis’ and ‘emoticons’ were the same (oh my God!).
    You’ve drawn a lot of interesting information on this topic and clearly your writing is really well. Your blog hits my curiosity and encourages me to read it from head to toe. I love how you construct and present your main points, it’s really easy to follow up.
    As emojis looks so colourful and entertaining, I think it would be more engaging if you could make a short video using these funny emojis. (Maybe they’re dancing on your phone or jumping from the virtual world to reality?)
    Overall, I can only say that I love your blog. It’s really informative and absolutely interesting!

    1. lauren Post author

      Hi Julia, glad you liked my post. I think your suggestion of a video is a good one and it sounds like you have some creative flair. I’ll have to see what I can come up with, but a video would be fun. Thanks for reading.

  9. Matt Eggs (@Mattyeggs)

    Great post Lauren! I enjoyed how you delivered your topic in a list format which made it really easy to follow and also kept me interested throughout the whole post. The best thing is I learnt a few things which is what we should all be aiming for in our blogs! The Canva image that you included was a really creative way to put what you had learnt to the test and also a really good way of including your own content. I thought perhaps you could have embedded one of the polls that you ran on twitter regarding emojis? But maybe you are saving that for another post. Keep up the great work.

    1. lauren Post author

      Thanks for your comments, Matt. I’m glad to hear the list style worked. I was planning to use the polls in another post, but I may yet update this post with some additional media. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

  10. Michelle Balaz

    Wow Lauren! Number 4 on your list actually blew my mind, I had no idea that emojis took up more than one character and I am going to be a lot more discerning about my usage from now on.
    Looping back to number 3 on your list, is there any way that you can embed these images into your blog rather than hyperlinking to them within your text? I’m assuming that you have done this because of licensing concerns, but it would demonstrate your point so much better if the images were within your blog themselves.
    Thank you for broadening my mind! Can’t wait to read your next blog.

    1. lauren Post author

      Hi Michelle, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree it would be good to find a way to incorporate more visual material for number three, as a couple of people have asked to see extracts. I’ll see if I can look into this further. As for number 4, I was surprised about the multiple character thing as well. Glad you found it useful.

  11. Nikita Asrani

    Lauren, Oh my god I really did not expect something so informative!! This reminds me of those professional blogs that communication agencies write. This blog is so different from the ones I have ever read since it is the combination of informal article + a genuine and important information that everyone should know. We use social media every day and some of us are using since more than 7 to 8 years and I am sure a lot us did not even know this.

    I love the bit how you started with the factual and historical aspect about the words. The 5 points that you have listed are also crisp and researched well that I cannot think of any point where you can improve on.

    Pictures and content are point. Well, in my opinion if there was some active interaction like a poll or any opinion by others embedded might make your blog standout more. Else, overall, I personally LOVED IT!!

  12. Mark Olasek

    Hey Lauren,
    This blog was a great read and really encouraged me to think more about emojis and how they can be effectively applied. This blog was very well spaced out and had good use of images. I didn’t know that Alice in Wonderland and Moby Dick had their own emojis, I need to keep a look out for them.

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