Throughout history, most human communication has been designed to suit two major senses. These senses are the eyes and the ears. Hence, language evolved, appealing to the ears.

Drawings and texts also came along, becoming a major way through which people communicate. However, in more recent times, with the advent of the digital society, communication has become very simplified. Now, we have tiny graphics in the form of emojis.

These make up a substantial part of our correspondence, formal or otherwise. Indeed, they began with emoticons consisting of brackets, colons, semicolons, and whatnot. However, we now have several hundred complex graphics used for various purposes.

In this article, we will explore as many of them as possible within different contexts. We’ll cover the semiotics of emoji use in online communication on social media, in email communication, and in the workplace, too.

Emoji – A brief background

The word emoji originates from the Japanese language. Broken in two, you have “e” and “moji.” The former means “image.” The latter means “character.” Emojis date as far back as 1982 with the invention of emoticons by Scott Fahlman.

These days, many individuals and organizations monitor our emoji usage (appropriately). This is largely because research continues to grow on the subject. Common researchers include sociologists, among other people.

Emojis and their meanings

In this section of our exploration of the semiotics of emojis in the digital society, we will review some of the most popular emojis and what they mean.

“😊“ – This is a simple smiling emoji. There are hardly any special features. While it is supposed to depict happiness, its eyes are considerably unexpressive. As such, in casual conversations, people often use it to express displeasure.

It is equally used to depict silent irritation of some sort towards something.

Very often, people on the receiving end in a conversation interpret it as passive-aggressive. The receiving party could move towards reconciliation or retaliate in a fashion that equally expresses dissatisfaction. It all depends on the relationship between the two individuals.

However, this is not true for corporate entities. In email communication by companies, the smile is often simply interpreted as a smile. Nothing more.

“🌚” – It is also known as the Moonface emoji. This tiny graphic has different meanings to people across the globe. For some who are less social media savvy, it is simply a moon with a face. It is incapable of representing any real emotions. As such, it is unworthy of use.

For others, it is more than that. These people are those who are more inclined toward internet communication. In many cases, users interpret it to mean something suggestive.

This is not surprising considering that WhatsApp, the world’s largest instant messaging platform, has the emoji looking sideways. It is pictured in the sense that users can perceive it as suggestive.

But, beyond giving double meanings, some users see the moon face emoji as creepy. Others believe it to be a show of disbelief.

“😏” – The smirking face emoji is not very hard to understand or see through. It has a wry, half-smile with raised eyebrows. Much like a real-life smirk, this emoji is often interpreted to depict smugness.

Alongside that, it often depicts a suggestive statement and a sexual innuendo, among other things.

In workplace correspondence and email communication, it hardly ever depicts sexual or suggestive meanings. Instead, within specific contexts, it is interpreted to mean different things. One of its uses is as a backup to statements like “we know you want to buy our products” or others of that sort.

“😒” – The unamused face consists of a frown, slightly raised eyebrows. To top it off, it has eyes that are looking sideways in disdain. This emoji is not hard to understand as it simply expresses various negative emotions.

These include displeasure, anger, irritation, etc. The same meanings are attributed to the emoji. They apply whether it is used in social media communication or in workplace discourses.

“🤣” – The rolling on the floor laughing emoji is equally self-explanatory. It consists of a yellow emoji face with its mouth wide open in hearty laughter. Its eyes have little tears in them to show how hard it is been laughing.

It is tilted at a 45-degree angle. Usually, it depicts a person laughing and is interpreted as such. In certain contexts, people can misinterpret it as mockery. However, this is rarely the case. Companies who use it use it in the same context as the general populace.

Importance of emojis in the digital culture

92% of consumers use emojis, according to a 2015 report. As such, it is easy to infer that they are incredibly important to digital society. At the very least, they help to spice up text messages on social media. In this regard, they perform the same functions as facial expressions in a real-life conversations.

In person you might be less inclined to speak to a partner who drones on with no inflections or expressions. In the same vein, you might be equally uninclined to speak with someone via text who never uses emojis. It can be quite boring within dynamic and happy conversations.

Beyond this, emojis are important for conveying specific emotions and meanings. In certain cases, the difference between a misinterpreted text leading to anger in the recipient and a good laugh is an emoji. It shows the intention of the sender. It also helps the recipient know that the conversation or relationship isn not strained.

Finally, emojis allow for conversation that is unhindered by the barriers of language. Granted, they are incredibly limited as they cannot solely replace words and letters. But, people can easily recognize and understand them across the world.


Despite already penetrating most of modern, internet-using civilization, emojis continue to grow in popularity. Today, there are several hundred emojis across several devices worldwide. Additionally, more would likely get added in the future.

In this article, we have reviewed several aspects of the emoji culture, from the background to their meanings. We have also considered their importance in modern-day communication. The new functions that emojis would take on are anyone’s guess, but at the same time, cultural conventions that will renew our communication skills. Empowering to those who manage to say more with less.


By David Adeyemo
SEO & Content Marketing Specialist.

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