Category Archives: emojis

All the same emoji are not the same

Did you know that the smiling emoji you send out on a google phone is not the same emoji that is received and published on Facebook?  Or that the smiling emoji you send as part of a text message on your iPhone is not the same one received on a Twitter account?

grinning face with smiling eyes1

GroupLens Research at the University of Minnesota

In fact, these various smiling emoji can be interpreted as not smiling at all.  They can seem angry.  Some “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji show teeth.  Some mouths are turned up while others seem straight or even turned down.

Research being conducted by Hannah Miller and Isaac Johnson at the University of Minnesota shows that because of the various ways the same emoji is shown on different platforms, the message of the emoji can be misinterpreted.

Not only that, but an emoji sent from one phone to an identical phone (the same emoji sent as received) can be misinterpreted by the receiver.

Emoji are supposed to reduce ambiguity of emotions in written communication.  They are supposed to increase the likelihood that the sender’s emotional content will be understood by the receiver.

But they don’t.  😦  So be careful when you send emoji with your written content.

How to be better understood on the web

Readers from the US, Pakistan, India, Australia, Georgia and Norway have visited this blog today.  I assume many of them are not native speakers of English.

How do I (and you) write for an international audience so that our writing is clear?

  • Eliminate idioms. Idioms don’t easily shift from one culture to another.  They might be taken as literal by people who have learned English as a second or third language.

Thomas Jefferson thinking about words to use in Declaration of Independence, with a modern-day child suggesting a word

  • Use a simplified vocabulary. Even if you know many synonyms, stick to common words, not rare ones.
  • Stick to standard English. Eliminate dialects or colloquiums.
  • Eliminate texting shortcuts. GTG is far from universal.
  • Keep your grammar simple. If you use complex sentences, limit yourself to one dependent clause per sentence.  Make sure pronoun antecedents are easy to figure out.  If they aren’t, repeat the nouns.
  • Use short sentences. Give yourself an upper word limit per sentence of 15 to 20 words.
  • Use American spelling.  It is the most common spelling of English words used on the web.
  • Assume your readers might not be fluent in English. Assume they might be ignorant of nuances of language that you take for granted.  Their English vocabularies might be rudimentary or restricted to one field of study.  Write accordingly.
  • Eliminate cultural bias. Pay attention to the connotations or double meanings of words.
  • Eliminate allusions.  So many references which well educated Americans use in writing are to the Bible, to Shakespeare or to pop songs.  Many readers will not understand them.
  • Use emojis.  Emojis can say in one picture what takes many words.

How to use emojis, the lingua franca of the digital world

Written language has always had the drawback of not expressing emotion easily. What can be shown with just a few muscle movements in a face might take a sentence or two to convey in words. What can be conveyed in a millisecond in life can take many seconds in print.

dozens of emojis

Filling this deficiency in words are emojis, pictographs used in digital writing.  They give writers the ability to convey emotion without using a thesaurus to find the specific word; they give young people who rely on broad, nonspecific terms a way to express a more specific meaning quickly and accurately.

If you, like me, are not fluent in emojis, how can you become fluent in this new pictorial way of writing? According to Jonna Stern of the Wall Street Journal, there are three steps.

  • First, familiarize yourself with the emojis which are part of your cell phone. On my iPhone’s text messaging keyboard, at the bottom there is a smiley face. If I click on it, I access pages of emojis. Scroll through the emojis on your phone to become familiar with what ones are there and what they might mean. Not sure? Go to or ask a fifth grader.
  • Next, realize that using emojis works best for expressing emotions or for giving a quick response (e.g., thumbs up, thumbs down). Try including one or two in your texts, adding to the variety you use the same way you would add new words to your vocabulary.
  • Last, Stern suggests you get a good emoji keyboard. (It’s much like graduating from a children’s dictionary to an adult one.) For the iPhone, she suggests checking out emoji++ or keymoji available at the App Store. For androids, she suggests SwiftKey.

Whether we like emojis or not, they are here to stay. If kids are using them in text messaging, you can be sure they will eventually use them in their writing. But how about in their academic writing? Do emojis have a place in a third grade paragraph on Paul Revere or in a sixth grade pro/con essay on wearing school uniforms?

Maybe not today, but in the future I predict we will see emojis accepted in academic writing. Electronics are changing our world. Why not our writing?

The word of 2015 isn’t a word; it’s a pictograph

An emoji rather than an actual word was named the Oxford Dictionary’s 2015 word of the year.

Not familiar with emojis? According to the Oxford Dictionary, an emoji is “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication.” (Think of the image of a “smiley face” or a “thumbs up.”) The emoji which won the honor is one showing a face smiling with tears of joy.

emoji smiling face with tears of joy

With so much of our written communication being done digitally or online, perhaps it is fitting that a pictograph should be named English word of the year. An emoji can cross cultures and languages. After all, a smile is a smile in any language.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the use of emojis is gaining. I thought they were limited to the smiley face and the frowning face, so a face smiling with tears of joy comes as a surprise to me. But so do dozens of emojis I recently discovered on my iPhone. When I key a message, at the bottom of the screen is a small, yellow smiling face. When pressed, it brings up a screen with dozens of emojis, including a face smiling with a tear.

Pictographs are nothing new in writing. Think of the now famous ad campaign for New York: I (symbol of a heart) NY. But they have spread in recent years thanks to electronics. Think of the icons we use. When we want to find something, we touch a magnifying glass. When we want to print, we press the icon of a printer.

Our children are already using emojis, so if we want to monitor their electronic communications, or if we want to become up-to-date with digital communication, we should ecome familiar with emojis: what ones are on our kids’ and our own phones, what emoji keyboards are available for downloading as apps, and how emojis are best used.

Think of emojis as a language in which everyone will be writing soon. If we want to be part of the conversation, we need to become fluent. Where do we begin? More about that in my next blog.