Confused by Some Emoji? Here's How to Decipher Them

Some emoji meanings are easy, but others can be \ complicated.

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Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
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Emoji keyboard on iPhone

Tennis shoe, smiley face, rocketship, pasta, am I right?

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These days, a text can include a combination of words and emoji that most people understand. Some people even use emoji in place of acronyms like LOL. Emoji aren't new, and their history traces back to the emoticons of the 1980s, like :-). However, emoji have gotten far more complex since then. Smileys are still present, but activities, animals and symbols have been added. As emoji have evolved, their meanings have, too.

Read more: 5 Best Emoji Keyboards for Android and iOS

A "😃" or "❤️" are simple enough to understand, but what does "👠🦝 🍔" mean? Over time, emoji meanings have become subjective depending on a message's context and wider cultural trends. 

A variety of emoji, including smileys, animals and objects

There's an emoji for just about everything.


What does the upside-down smiley face indicate? Which emoji with a tongue sticking out is the least weird? Does the peach emoji actually mean fruit anymore? Here's how to figure out what an emoji means... all 3,633 of them. 

Your guide to emoji meanings: Emojipedia 

Emojipedia is, well, an online encyclopedia of emoji. The website sorts emoji into eight categories, including Smileys and People, Objects, Activity and more. Clicking a category -- such as Smileys and People -- will open up a specific list of emoji including, you guessed it, smileys and people, as well as families, hand gestures, clothing and accessories. 

If you click "😅" (grinning face with sweat), for example, Emojipedia will give you a brief description of the emoji, what it means, when it became an official emoji and other possible names for it.

"[It's] intended to depict nerves or discomfort but commonly used to express a close call, as if saying Whew! and wiping sweat from the forehead," Emojipedia says of the grinning face with sweat emoji. 

Emojipedia will also show you the different artwork styles for each emoji across platforms, since the characters often appear differently depending on your device. It'll also give you shortcodes for Github and Slack, if applicable. 

Emoji keyboard on Android

Is a text message complete without an emoji?

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Which are the most popular emoji?

While you may have your own go-to emoji, according to Emojipedia, these are the most popular emoji as of about half way through July. Note that not all platforms support all the latest emoji, so they may not all appear on your device.

How often do new emoji get added to different platforms?

The Unicode Standard -- a universal character encoding standard -- is responsible for creating new emoji. But anyone can submit an idea for a new emoji. The most recent batch of emoji was released with Emoji 14.0 in September 2021; Apple's iOS 15.4 was the latest update to bring new emoji to all users. It included 37 new emoji, including a melting face, two hands forming the shape of a heart and a troll. 

So, these folks take emoji seriously?

You could say that. Emojipedia hosts the World Emoji Awards on World Emoji Day, July 17. Awards are given for Most Popular New Emoji and Most Anticipated Emoji. Winners are determined by popular vote on  Twitter , and any emoji approved the year prior is eligible to win. 

The winner for the Most Popular New Emoji in 2022 is the face holding back tears emoji (🥹). The heart hands emoji (🫶) came in second with the melting face emoji (🫠) took the third spot.

In 2021, the winning emoji was a syringe emoji (💉) to represent vaccine optimism. The runner-up was a microbe emoji ( 🦠) for the coronavirus pandemic. The most anticipated award in 2021 went to the melting face emoji (🫠).