Why those smiley faces in texts are important

Although it might mean nothing, a winky emoji can make you feel uncomfortable when received in a bus

Although it might mean nothing, a winky emoji can make you feel uncomfortable when received in a business communication, particularly from someone you don't know very well. Pic: Archant. - Credit: Archant

What are the five emojis you use most often and what do they say about you? With World Emoji Day on Wednesday, it's time to separate the smiley faces from the sassy girl, the smirking face from the Japanese goblin.

It's World Emoji Day on Wednesday (insert surprised face) when we can all celebrate our international obsession with smiley faces, flamenco dancers, unicorns and anthropomorphic poo.

Long before the emoji (a picture that can be used in a text message) there was the emoticon, an image made by using normal keys on a keyboard such as punctuation, letters and numbers so a colon followed by the curved line of a closed bracket forms a smiley face.

The official birth of the emoticon was in 1982 when college professor Scott Fahlman instructed students to use a smiley face to indicate in digital communications that they were joking rather than being unforgivably rude or sociopathic.

An emoji is an actual image - it could be a picture of a smiley face or something more specific, like a dancing lady, rolling eyes, an oil drum, a Japanese goblin, a chestnut, a fish cake, a levitating man in a business suit or a camel. They are used to enable us to express emotion and empathy in digital communication which lacks the visual signals we have in face-to-face interaction.

So you can break up with a partner via text and then soften the blow by adding a range of emoticons - a Japanese goblin, perhaps, or a raccoon.

When Andy Murray married Kim Sears in April 2015, he announced the marriage in a tweet entirely made of emojis and the Oxford Dictionary of English announced 'emoji' as its word of the year, beating 'Brexit'.

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A straw poll in the office reveals that the most-used emoji at the EDP is the classic "face with tears of joy", followed by the red heart (romantics), then the smiley face with heart eyes (sweet) and then the thumbs up (this was skewed by sport, who use it continually, apparently). Delving into people's most-used emojis was fascinating - and occasionally disturbing.

Rowan, who I sit next to, uses the following emojis most frequently: a face rolling its eyes, a glass of wine, a sheep, a sleeping face and a yellow heart, Siofra, who I produce Weird Norfolk and Weird Suffolk with, uses these most - the black heart, the face with tears of joy, the heart-eyed smiley, a grimacing face and a ghost.

Genuinely, this is a great way to waste time - ask your friends which emojis they use most or the five they used last and be prepared to be vaguely chilled by their reply - so THAT'S why the calmest person in the office can remain so serene, because their text messages are filled with blind FURY.

In a new paper published in 2017, in the journal Trends on Cognitive Sciences, a team of psychologists argued that as our daily interactions become more digital, the growing use of emojis helps us get the same satisfaction from digital interactions as if we were communicating in person, particularly if the author struggled to convey what they really meant in words alone.

The little symbols increase the precision and nuance of our quick texts which without them could be open to misunderstanding - sentences like "I just walked into a cupboard" can be changed entirely by an emoji: the smiley with tears of joy means it was a clumsy mistake, the crying face means you may have nip round with an ice pack.

Somewhat frighteningly, 72 per cent of those aged between 18 and 25 find it easier to communicate emotions using emojis rather than words, although this shouldn't come as a huge surprise seeing as the Ancient Egyptians cornered this market centuries ago with hieroglyphics.

Other research, however, has shown that people who use emojis are generally more agreeable in nature, more socially receptive and empathic and emojis have been described as "a language that transcends culture". And which is easier to learn than French (insert winky face).