Confused by emoji meanings? Here’s a simple trick for getting it right

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Tennis shoe, smiley face, rocketship, pasta, am I right?

Jason Cipriani/CNET

These days, a text is rarely ever just text. As emojis sprung up on smartphones over the last 10 years, they’ve given us a new language to communicate in, full of smiles, .YCOyJGgzaM8 winks and hearts. Emoji can trace their roots back to the emoticons of the early 1980s — if you’re old enough to remember life before smartphones, you’ve probably used the smiley emoticon, :-), composed of a colon, dash and closing parenthesis. Emoji, however, are massive sets of characters available through iOS, Android, Windows and MacOS. 

Some use emoji sparingly in messages, while others have nearly mastered communication and can use them like modern-day hieroglyphics. 

Read more: 5 best emoji keyboards for Android and iOS

A smiley face or a heart is simple enough to understand, but what do you make of a text message containing only a stiletto, a raccoon and a hamburger emoji? Over time, their meanings have become subjective depending on the message context and wider cultural trends. 


There’s an emoji for just about everything.


What does the upside-down smiley face indicate? Which emoji with a tongue sticking out is the least weird? Does the peach emoji actually mean fruit anymore? Here’s how to figure out what an emoji means… all 3,521 of them. 

Your guide to emoji meanings: Emojipedia 

Emojipedia is, well, an online encyclopedia of emoji. The website sorts emoji into eight categories, including Smileys and People, Objects, Activity and more. Clicking a category — such as Smileys and People — will open up a specific list of emoji including, well, smileys and people, families, hand gestures, clothing and accessories. 

If you click “?”, named grinning face with sweat,” for example, Emojipedia will give you a brief description of the emoji, what it means, when it became an official emoji and other possible names it might be known as. 

“[It’s] intended to depict nerves or discomfort but commonly used to express a close call, as if saying Whew! and wiping sweat from the forehead,” Emojipedia says of the grinning face with sweat emoji. 

Emojipedia will also show you the different artwork styles for each emoji across different platforms, since the characters often appear differently depending on your device. It’ll also give you shortcodes for Github and Slack, if applicable. 


Is a text message complete without an emoji?

Angela Lang/CNET

Which are the most popular emoji?

While you may have your own go-to emoji, according to Emojipedia, these are currently the most popular emojis:

How often do new emoji get added to different platforms?

The Unicode Standard — a universal character encoding standard — is responsible for creating new emoji. But anyone can submit an idea for a new emoji. The most recent batch of emoji was released with Emoji 13.1. Apple’s upcoming iOS 14.5 update will include 217 new emoji, including a heart on fire, an exhaling face and more skin tone variations for emoji.

So, these folks take emoji seriously?

You could say that. Emojipedia even hosts the World Emoji Awards every July 17. In 2020, any emoji approved in 2019 was eligible. Winners were determined by popular vote on Twitter. Awards are given for Most Popular New Emoji and Most Anticipated Emoji. Last year, the most-anticipated emoji awards went to smiling face with tear and the transgender flag, for example. 

In 2020, Emojipedia asked users to decide which emoji best represented the year. People could vote and keep track with a March Madness-style bracket. The winning emoji was raised fist: dark skin tone ( ✊? ), to represent the dozens of protests for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. The runner-up emoji was a microbe emoji ( ? ), for the coronavirus pandemic.

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