What Do Emoji Mean? Plus, 6 Emoji to Get You Started

Emoji (Japanese for “picture character”) are starting to show up everywhere online. Find out what they mean and how to get started.

Ashley Dodge, assistant to
4-minute read

With the release of iOS 8, Apple is making the emoji keyboard more prominent, and Android 4.4 KitKat includes emoji on the standard keyboard, so you’re likely to be seeing a lot more of these little symbols or picture characters in the future. (Emoji is Japanese for “picture character.”) What do they mean? It depends.

Deciphering some emoji, such as this Miley-Cyrus-inspired stuck-out tongue with a winking eye, stuckouttonguewinkingeye.PNG requires pop culture knowledge (though we’re still not really sure what that means). Others are obvious, such as a happy face. It seems as if there’s an emoji for everything and new ones are popping up all the time. Martha Brockenbrough, author of books for smart kids and juvenile adults and the founder of National Grammar Day, found so much meaning and inspiration in emoji that she used them to tweet a (short) novel.


Getting Started Using Emoji

Here’s how to get started using emoji. Some emoji are supported by certain sites, such as Campfire or Basecamp, but sometimes you’ll have to set up a keyboard depending on the device you’re using. Here’s a guide to getting the keyboard set-up for IOS tablets and phones, and here’s a guide for Android users.

You can also view emoji on your computer by downloading and adding the Google Chrome extension Chromoji. Chromoji will allow you to see, copy, and paste Mac OS X style emoji on Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X Chrome browsers.

There are a few known issue to Chromoji regarding where you can use emoji. A few places where Chromoji will not work include Google Hangouts chat and Facebook messages. Chromoji will allow emoji to show up on Twitter, Facebook comments, statuses, and walls, and in Gmail, and various other sites. (You will have to test Chromji to see what works for you on your system.)

To check if you can see emoji, many sources recommend going to the emoji Wikipedia page. If you can see the list of emoji, then you’re good to go.

6 Emoji To Start Using Right Now and What They Mean

Now that your keyboard is ready, here are six emoji that almost everyone will understand. Think of them as “starter emoji”!

The Heart heart symbol.PNG

According to FiveThirtyEight’s emoji report, the heart is the most popular emoji on Twitter (and probably elsewhere too).

What does it mean? This emoji means love, but it’s not limited to romantic love. You can use it to express your heart symbol.PNGfor cookies, the new Godzilla movie, or the latest Grammar Girl podcast.

Heart Eyes, Joy, and Unamused hearteyes.PNGjoy.PNGunamused.PNG

:) and  :( are so last year. Why settle for two choices when you can express a specific emotion through facial emoji? Before you get carried away, start slow. snail.PNG According to FiveThirtyEight, the most popular facial emoji are heart eyes (hearteyes.PNG), joy (joy.PNG), and unamused (unamused.PNG). We think these three do the trick when you’re first starting out. No one is just :) anymore. They’re joy.PNG, right?

What they mean:

unamused.PNG You’re not amused. Use this when you’re tired of using “LOL” (and you aren’t really laughing out loud) and finally feel you want to be honest.

hearteyes.PNGYou love something so much you wish your hearts were eyes. Use this when someone tells you you’re having your favorite pizza for dinner, when your significant other says something sweet, etc.

joy.PNGYou’re so happy you can’t help but shed a tear. Use this for weddings, baby showers, laughing so hard you’re crying, etc.

Like and Dislike thumbs up.PNGthumbs down.PNG

Facebook may not have a dislike button, but you do have a dislike emoji. Like something your friend just said on Twitter? Dislike that person’s Facebook status? Use thumbs up.PNGor thumbs down.PNG to let them know.

How to Punctuate Around Emoji

When you use emoji in sentences, you’ll immediately start wondering where you should put your periods and comma—before or after the emoji? In The Grammar Devotional, Grammar Girl recommends treating emoticons like dashes and putting them after punctuation. The same advice works for emoji when you’re using them to highlight something, as I did with the snail in the “Heart Eyes, Joy, and Unamused” section above. However, if an emoji is standing in for a word, put it where you’d put the word—usually before the punctuation mark—as I did in the last line of the first paragraph of the “Heart Eyes, Joy, and Unamused” section above in which joy.PNGis essentially standing in for the word joyous.

Next Page: Can Emojis Be the Plural of Emoji?


About the Author

Ashley Dodge, assistant to Grammar Girl

You May Also Like...

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To exercise your choices about cookies, please see Cookies and Online Tracking.