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Emotions, emoticons and emojis – oh my!

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Wearables, smartphones and hand-held devices operating on a fast, high-quality network make it easier than ever to quickly send and receive messages and updates. Saving additional precious seconds is the digital phenomenon everyone has come to know and love – the use of emojis to communicate emotion. But, as this visual language has continued to evolve and grow, users need to be mindful of the potential risk for miscommunication.

Emoticons are hailed as the original emojis. These representations of facial expressions, dating back to 1982, used a combination of punctuation marks, letters and numbers to convey what people were feeling with a few keystrokes on desktop computers. The emojis more commonly used today emerged in the late 1990s and by 2011 had made their way into the mainstream after being adopted as a global standard, so any phone or operating system will use the same images. These mini images depicting various facial expressions as well as common objects, places and types of weather have become a universal language.

Today, nearly every smartphone keyboard and communication platform comes equipped with its own set of emojis, but unfortunately, some of the most commonly used are still misinterpreted. The same emoji can look slightly different on an iPhone X versus a Samsung Galaxy S8, and when you factor in the lack of context when using emojis, along with generational and cultural gaps, it’s easy to see the risk of relying on the images to express the intended message.

The proliferation of emojis caters to a visually focused society and unwittingly creates room for misinterpretation. To help smartphone users better understand these shorthand symbols and use them appropriately, U.S. Cellular recommends www.emojipedia.org as a great resource for smartphone users; descriptions of the meaning of  different emojis can also be found at unicode.org/emoji. Following is some insight from U.S. Cellular on five frequently misinterpreted emojis.

1.     Astonished face – The astonished face is a face with a round, open mouth and either wide open eyes or two X’s for eyes. While it actually represents astonishment or surprise, the eyes on some platforms lead many to believe that it represents a dead face, which is not a message one wants to unintentionally send.

2.     Triumphant face – Known as the “face with look of triumph” or “face with steam from nose,” this emoji features furrowed eyebrows, closed eyes and steam coming from the face. While the steam is meant to show a look of power and triumph, it appears this one is frequently interpreted as the face of frustration or someone ‘in a huff.’

3.     Confounded face – The confounded face features a round, yellow face with eyebrows, triangular eyes pointed toward one another and a squiggly mouth. This face is most often used to portray feelings of stress or worry; however, its original intent represented confusion.

4.     Person tipping hand – A girl holding out her hand as if she were a waitress carrying an invisible tray of drinks was originally known as “information desk person.” Many also use this emoji to convey sassiness or sarcasm, reinforcing how many ways some emojis can be interpreted.

5.     Folded hands – One of the commonly miscommunicated emojis doesn’t represent a face at all, but rather is an image of a pair of hands. While originally intended to represent please or thank you, it’s now more commonly used to convey hands joined in prayer, and still others interpret them as high-fiving.

According to a recent survey by U.S. Cellular, the average smartphone user sends 31 texts per day, and 75 percent update their status on social media each day, providing ample opportunities to communicate – and miscommunicate – with emojis.

(Matt Kasper is the director of sales for U.S. Cellular in New England.)

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