Emoji. The word officially entered the English language in 2015. That
shows how attached we’ve become to these amusing little expressions of sentiment.
But when is it – and when is it not – appropriate to use them? And what are
the risks of us getting it wrong?
The answer to the above, we would argue, depends on your relationship with
your interlocutor. In short: you have to trust your judgement. It’s safe to
say that Emojis offer a more uninhibited, casual mode of communication, which
when used effectively, will strengthen bonds and break barriers. Yet when used
clumsily, may leave you with some relationship-building to do…
Communication is a two-way process. We are only in control of our side of the
exchange. We can choose how to act (send) and react (receive). But we can’t
control what happens on the other side. When we lack the benefit of information
gleaned from facial cues and body language – as is the case with any written
language – pitching our language just right becomes even harder.
The art of effective communication lies in understanding the other person,
their background, perspective, beliefs, etc. Which is why Tongue Tied uses only
native speakers to translate texts. And, yes, Emojis need translating sometimes
The ‘good luck’ gesture at the bottom of this page is a great example of why:
crossed fingers have quite obscene connotations in Vietnam. Meanwhile, in Greece,
displaying your palm to another person (as in the gesture ‘stop’) is equally
insulting. Over in Italy, the American-born rock ‘n’ roll ‘bull horns’ is a
definite no-no. The list of potential international insults goes on as the Emoji
family continues to grow…
Even when you think you are on safe ground, you may not be. Emojis were born in Japan, with very specific Japanese connotations. Take the
‘prayer hands’, for instance. "Let’s hope and pray" is the most obvious
interpretations to us Westerners. However, in Japanese culture, this hand gesture
is a clear expression of gratitude or an apology. And the little lady with her
hands held above her head as if doing pirouette, she’s saying "OK!"
in Japanese, as it were.
One study* involving participants located in the US only, showed that people
disagreed on whether the sentiment of an Emoji was positive, neutral, or negative,
25% of the time. Add cultural factors into the mix and the risk of misinterpretation
To make things even more confusing, different platforms (Apple, Google, Samsung,
Microsoft, to name a few) have different representations of Emojis, some of
which bear no resemblance at all!
To help you ride the Emojinal rollercoaster, we suggest you check out emojipedia.