What do emojis really mean?

June 10, 2015, 1:52 PM GMT+0

There are many different interpretations of different emojis – and some vary widely from the 'intended' use

Emoji – small images used to express ideas or emotions in digital communication – may be the world's first truly global language. First developed in Japan in the '90s to mimic face-to-face gestures, and overcome communication breakdown in the transition from letters to email, a set of around 100 emojis are now used worldwide to convey a significant portion of human emotion.

But this adaptability also creates a great deal of misinterpretation. YouGov has captured the ambiguity by asking people to say in one word what six commonly used emoji mean. 63% of Americans say that they use emojis at least occasionally.

There is the greatest agreement on the second emoji below, with 780 out of 1,000 Americans interpreting it as 'sad', 'crying', 'upset' or 'unhappy'. According to the group who set the standards for emoji, however, it doesn't mean any of these – 'Sleepy Face' is it's official definition, and the drip is actually a bubble coming out of the nose used in Japanese animation to denote sleep.

Greater confusion is added by the different designs used for the same emoji across different mobile platforms. There is little consensus on what the third emoji above means, and this is only looking at the Apple/WhatsApp version – as you can see below, on Android and Windows the emoji has a much clearer depiction of dizziness, it's official definition.

Similar research on what emojis really mean was conducted in the UK. People in the UK generally see emojis similarly, though Americans are much more likely to see the 'Dizzy Face' emoji as 'dead', while Brits generally see it as 'shocked' or 'sleepy'.

Apple recently added racially diverse emojis to its mobile operating system. Rather than the default yellow skin tone, some emojis, if held down, offer users a range of colours from white to black, with varying hair colours too.

Full poll results can be found here and topline results and margin of error here.