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Have you ever wondered why we really use emojis? Is it simply social media short hand, or is it a curated language based on pop cultural influence? During Thinking Digital 2018, we had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Wiseman, an emoji specialist who’s managed to research the hidden meaning behind our text talk.

Sarah herself uses a slightly obscure carp streamer emoji when talking to her sister. Between the sisters, this is a signifier for absolute, overwhelming joy and makes perfect sense if you understand the meaning of Koinobori (a carp-shaped windsock, flown in Japan to celebrate holidays). But to someone who isn’t aware of this, it’s simply a fish-shaped flag with no obvious emotional connotation.

Context and personal reference mean a great deal when speaking in ideograms. A more universally understood example can be found with the infamous peach emoji. Through research by Emojipedia we can see this emoji is often used for more than a representation of the fruit. In fact, only 4% of those asked use it for this purpose – 3% of people use the emoji to mean everything is ‘peachy keen’, with another 20% using the peach to mean something unique to the user. But by far the most popular use of this innocent-looking emoji was the 73% who use it to represent an ass.

In an attempt to correct this, Apple redesigned the peach emoji in 2016 to remove any sexualised reference, but this was met with a fierce backlash in beta testing and was quickly reversed. We can now assume this backlash was down to how the emoji was being used. If 73% only see this as a tool for sexting, they’d get very minimal use out of the fruit’s new design.

Emojis aren’t just for sexting or text talk, these emoticons have actually became so popular, that in 2015 the cry laughing face became the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year, due to its frequent usage. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll communicate in nothing but universal smiley faces.