What do emoji signs mean?

Emojis have taken over the world. At the end of 2021, there were 3633 emojis in the Unicode Standard. That means they are officially approved and released to the public.

Ida Pernille Christensen, CXM & Content Advisor Ida Christensen 28 Apr, 2022 • 8 Min. read

What does the word “emoji” mean?

The word emoji comes from the Japanese language and translates directly to “image sign”. Emojis are developed from emoticons, which consist only of characters. An emoticon is usually written from left to right, making the reader tilt his or her head to the left to read it. 

Left-handers sometimes choose to write their emoticons the opposite way, as a mark of their distinctive feature – making the reader tilt their head the other way. 

The use of emojis

The use of emojis exploded in 2012 and is allegedly the fastest growing language in global history. Most people find it hard to write a message without adding a smiley, a heart, or another image sign. 

World Emoji Day

Did you know the official World Emoji Day is July 17th? Ever since 2014, the day has been celebrated with the launch of new emojis and products, and several brands make use of this day for brand visibility. 

Emojis in marketing

Most people will agree that emojis are fun, decorative and great for communication. They are used to illustrate or enhance written communication and to express emotions. Because they are so well implemented in everyday communication, they are also a great marketing tool. 

Creating engagement

Emojis are widely distributed and easily recognized, making them the perfect marketing tool. On the website emojirequest.com, anyone can make emoji suggestions and vote for their favourite. In 2022, more than 8 million emojis are proposed so far, and the most popular ones have more than 70.000 votes.

Bringing focus to current issues

In non-profit marketing, emojis have proven particularly useful. For nonprofits, it’s important to reach as many people as possible to raise awareness, encouraging voluntary engagement and donations. Emojis have proven to be one of the most effective ways to have an effect on people’s emotions.

There are countless examples of emojis being used with great success in non-profit marketing:

Multicultural awareness

In 2015, emojis became multicultural. Apple was the first provider of six different skin tones, starting with the emojis that represent people and hand signs (thumbs up, etc.). 

Modern families

The same year, expanded family emojis were also launched. From the traditional family consisting of mother, father, and child, families now came in all variations; father and father, mother and mother, and families without children.

LGBT awareness

The rainbow flag emoji was launched in 2016, as a result of a campaign that collected more than 40.000 signatures. The rainbow flag is an international symbol for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, and the emoji is a tribute to the entire LGBT community.

Menstrual emoji

Plan International UK was the initiative taker of the menstrual emoji, intending to raise awareness about menstruation. Menstruation is a global taboo topic, causing difficult conditions for women in many parts of the world; 28 % of girls in Uganda don’t go to school while on their period, and only 12 % of girls and women in India have access to sanitary products.  

National branding

In 2015, Finland launched national emojis as the first country in the world. They represent typical Finnish symbols, such as the Finnish flag, and the Finnish national bird: a swan.

Two of the Finnish emojis were approved by the Unicode Consortium; the sauna and woolly socks. In just three years, the Finnish emojis had a spread of approximately 240 million uses in traditional and social media, making the Finnish brand campaign extremely successful.  

What do the emojis mean?

Many emojis are easily understood such as angry face, happy face, or laughing face with tears of joy. These are categorised as Smileys & People. 

Other emojis are not so easily understood, for example teacup without handle in the Food & Drink category. Many confuse this with pea soup, but actually it’s the image sign for a Japanese green tea called Matcha. 

Developer variations

In fact, many emojis are widely misconstrued, and the various suppliers are adding to the confusion. Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter are all offering their own versions of the Unicode-approved emojis, sometimes issuing vastly different versions. 

A few years ago, Samsung-users were particularly frustrated by this. Samsung’s original emojis were so different, they were interpreted in completely different ways than their originals. 

A classic example of this is face with rolling eyes, an emoji that is supposed to express a tiresome emotion, but on Samsung devices looked like a curious and hopeful smiley – the complete opposite of its twin. This was corrected in 2018, causing The Verge to state “Samsung has finally upgraded their terrible emoji”.

Hidden meaning emojis

Emojis are used by the younger and older generations alike, but they don’t always mean the same thing to different audiences. A survey conducted by High Speed Internet revealed that several emojis have hidden sexual referances, which only the younger users are aware of. 

There is no Unicode-approved emoji that shows sexual acts, but that doesn’t mean the users can’t attribute emojis their own hidden meaning. The survey revealed these sexual emojis:

  • Eggplant and banana: Two food-representing emojis, but for some they also represent male genitalia.
  • Peach: Widely used to symbolise a bottom.
  • Fire: Used to express something is sexy.
  • Sweat droplets: The older audience perceived this emoji as rain drops, but for a younger audience it can also mean orgasm. By using raised fist first, it refers to masturbation. 
  • Smirking face: Younger audiences perceive this as a flirtatious emoji, while the older audience does not.
  • Tongue: This emoji can symbolise oral sex.
  • Pointing right with OK hand: In combination, these two emojis refers to having sex.   

Emoji dictionary

Read on to find a list of the most popular emojis at the moment, and in what context they are most frequently used. Always remember emojis can mean different things depending on the situation, culture, and mood. The safest way to use an emoji is by knowing the recipient to the bone. Use them with caution!

In the list: Insert emojis (se norsk tekst)

  • ? Person Shrugging: This emoji usually means you know nothing about the topic of conversation, or that you don’t care about a situation.
  • ? Black Heart: Unlike the red heart, the black heart is used to express grief or condolences. 
  • ? Thinking Face: This emoji means you are considering something or buried in deep thoughts. Subconsciously, it also means you are critical of the conversation.
  • ? Winking Face: This emoji has many different meanings depending on the situation; a joke, flirtation, ironic or condescending undertone, or general positivity. Use it cautiously.
  • Person bowing: This emoji is interesting because it originates from a Japanese etiquette called dogeza. It represents deep regret or requesting a great favour. However, people have misinterpreted this emoji as a person doing push ups, a person resting his face in his hands, a yoga pose, or a religious person. To make the confusion even greater, the emoji has lines above the head that may also indicate surprise, anticipation or astonishment.
  • ✨ Sparkles: Most commonly used to indicate positive sentiments, including happiness, beauty, and excitement. May also be used to convey sarcastic or mocking tones.