In the ever-changing world of high-tech gadgets and gizmos, a whole load of jargon is thrown our way that many of us don’t necessarily understand.

In our regular series, What is…, we’ll tackle a tech term and explain what it means so you can understand it a bit more.

[Read more: The best of #WorldEmojiDay]

Here we explain what an emoji is – something many of us are using on smartphones, social networking sites and beyond.

And, with it being reported the tears of joy face is the most used emoji on iOS, you want to make sure you're using it right. 

What is an emoji?

An emoji is a small image or icon which is used electronically, usually depicting emotions or common objects.

The word is actually Japanese, meaning ‘picture word’, and actually originated in that country back in the late 90s.

In recent years, emoji’s more widespread popularity has been driven by support from smartphone makers.


Android and Apple smartphones include emoji options within their native keyboards, allowing you to add them to messages.

Emoji are regularly used on mobile communication apps like WhatsApp and can be seen on social networking websites like Twitter too.

Facebook has something very similar called ‘Stickers’ which you can add to messages by tapping the smiley face.

So popular are emoji, that in 2015 one known as ‘the face with tears of joy’ was even named the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year (you can see it below).


New emoji are added every so often to include more day-to-day objects and reflect racial diversity. Every now and again a campaign to get a certain emoji included is launched, such as a ginger emoji.

[Read more: The Royal Opera House is celebrating World Emoji Day by tweeting out emoji versions of famous shows]