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Emoticons and emojis: What are they and what’s the difference?

What are emojis and emoticons, what’s the difference between them and how do you download and use them in messages? Here’s our complete guide to emojis and emoticons.

What is an emoji?

Emoji, Japanese for ‘picture with character’, is a blanket term for the little picture icons that people send in messages (typically text or chat messages from a mobile phone). These pictures can represent pretty much anything at all, from people and animals to clothes, sporting items and even steaming piles of poo.

Emojis are now ridiculously popular in messaging apps, to the point that the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of The Year 2015 was actually an emoji. Sigh.

What is an emoticon?

Emoticon is a blanket term for pictures or symbols that represent a particular emotion.

Because it’s difficult to convey feelings in text messages, thanks to a complete lack of tone and expression, people use emoticons to ensure the receiver knows exactly how they feel. For instance, a sarcastic message may end with a frowny face to show that the sender isn’t actually ‘super excited to be going to the dentist for a double root canal’.

Emoticons used to be made up of various keyboard symbols, such as 🙂 for a smiley face and o_O for a shocked face. However, these days most phone messaging apps come with built-in emoticon graphics, to save you from typing out the characters yourself.

Note that emoticons are not necessarily just face pictures. For instance, </3 is also an emoticon, representing a broken heart.

What’s the difference between an emoji and an emoticon?

While emoticons specifically represent a kind of emotion (hence the name), an emoji could be absolutely any kind of picture, including inanimate objects such as shoes. In this way, emoticons could also be described as emojis, but not necessarily the other way around.

How do I use emojis and emoticons on my mobile phone?

Every modern mobile’s text messaging app will have emojis built in, usually of the manufacturer’s own design.

Head into your text messaging app and start to write a message. You should see an emoji symbol somewhere on the virtual keyboard, usually represented by a smiley face. Give this a tap and you’ll open up the emoji menu, which gives you a choice of pictures to insert into your message.

You will also find emojis built into almost every third-party messaging app that you download onto your phone. The likes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype all boast their own set of picture icons, which again are hidden away in a special emoji menu.

How do I download new emojis and emoticons onto my mobile phone?

Regardless of which kind of phone you use (Android, iPhone, Windows Phone and so on), you can download and install new emojis quite easily.

Head to your phone’s online apps store (the App Store for iPhone users, and Google Play for Android users, for instance) and search for ’emoji’. You’ll see a huge list of emoji keyboards, such as the Kika keyboard, which replace your standard virtual keyboard with a new version packing a vast array of pics and icons to use. You’ll also find emoji packs, such as the Minions Emoji, which actually adds emoji into the most popular messaging apps.

If you really must, you can even install Kim Kardashian emoji, some of which have to be seen to be believed.

How do I make my own emoji?

If you can’t find just the right emoji to express yourself, then try downloading an app such as Makemoji. This allows you to create your own mini pictures, to send to friends in messages.


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