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9:48 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Simmering Online Debate Shows Emoji Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Originally published on Fri August 1, 2014 6:22 pm

Images, GIFs and emojis — particularly the latter — have morphed into ways we express our feelings. They've quickly replaced words and sentences in our texts, tweets and emails.

So, what is this emoji? (As I'm writing this, it's consistently been the 25th most-tweeted emoji, according to the real-time emojitracker.) On Thursday, a report from a local Philadelphia TV station reignited a debate and got people all up in arms. (Or should I say, up in hands?)

An anchor suggests it's someone praying. "What we've discovered is the intention of this emoji is to represent a high-five," he says. "But a lot of people really, truly believe it's someone praying." (How they've "discovered" such a claim is unclear.)

And if you want to play by the book, turn the question to your iPhone: Highlight the emoji and prompt your iPhone to "Speak" it. It'll tell you that the emoji is "hands folded in prayer." And if you think of how folks usually high-five one another — using opposite hands, with thumbs crossed — this makes sense.

The Emojipedia doesn't choose one meaning but says it varies depending on the cultural context. In Japanese culture, it says, it can mean "sorry" or "thank you."

I tossed the question to folks on Twitter:

When we think about emojis and what they mean, we have to consider how these symbols have evolved into their own language. Emojis aren't quite a universal form of communication; their meanings are malleable and often develop in unique ways as we build relationships with the people we're texting or tweeting. I assign different meanings to the same emojis based on inside jokes with friends, moods and specific situations.

Jessica Bennett wrote for The New York Times:

"There's also a certain subjective quality to the sequences. Depending on whether you think the little face with the teardrop on his forehead is sweating or crying, your friend may have either just been dumped or been to SoulCycle. 'I think it's clear that a rough grammar exists for emoji, or is at least emerging,' said Colin Rothfels, a developer who maintains a Twitter feed, @anagramatron, that collects tweets (and thus emoji) that are anagrams."

But if I had to choose one meaning for the hands-pressed-together emoji, I'd probably go with this one:

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