America loves the eggplant emoji, and other lessons from a new emoji study

The most comprehensive emoji study ever done was released today. SwiftKey, the smart keyboard app that learns as you type, analyzed 1.3 billion data points compiled over four months to look at overall trends in emoji usage across the world, and found, among other things, that the United States uses the eggplant emoji 🍆 more than any other nation. (And it’s not because we’re making eggplant parmesan for dinner, either).

Before we take a look at the full findings, a caveat: it’s impossible to tell exactly how reliable the data is, since it only looks at SwiftKey users, not those who use iOS and Android’s native emoji keyboards. That said, the sample size, somewhere north of one million users, is large enough to be statistically significant. (Also: keeping track of users’ keystrokes, even if they opted in, is admittedly is a little creepy, but given that it’s for📈emoji science📈,I’m willing to look the other way.)

Now, the findings:


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Faces accounted for close to 60 percent of emoji use in the study, all told, which confirms that people are using emoji to convey something that text alone can lack: emotion. It’s no surprise that the hearts and hand gestures are next, with 12.5 percent and 5.3 percent of use, respectively. But what jumps out is the monkey category, which accounted for 1.7 percent of total use.

My theory here is that the three monkey emoji that live in the faces tab, also referred to as “see no evil” (🙈), “hear no evil” (🙉), and “speak no evil” (🙊), convey more emotion than any other animals in the set. I frequently use 🙊 to indicate that what I’m texting someone is a secret, and 🙈 to convey embarrassment.

Americans ranked lowest among English-speakers in their use of the beer cheers (🍻), and highest in their use of the money bag (💰). Americans lost to our neighbors up north when it came to using the poop emoji (💩) and the gun emoji (🔫), both of which were more frequently used by Canadians.

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Spanish-speakers in the U.S. were more likely to use the crying emoji than other groups, with tear-streaked faces (😭) representing 4 percent of all emoji use.

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The French lived up to their romantic reputation, ranking first in the survey in their use of hearts and romance emoji. (Although, tellingly, their happy-face use was below that of other nations.)

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Other highlights of the study’s findings include:

*Russian speakers ranked first in the world in their use of the cold weather emojis, while Arabic speakers rank first in their use of the warm weather emojis. (Which makes sense, meteorologically.) ☔️ 🌞

*Australia beat the world in its use of junk food, alcohol and drug emoji, so we all know where to throw our next party. 💊

*The U.S. ranked first in our use of meat emoji and tech emoji. 🍗📲

*Malaysia ranked first in its use of the beloved poop emoji, as well as the set of sleep emojis. Even more impressive is that Malaysia has the most diverse emoji vocabulary in the world. (Here in the U.S., we tend to stick with our favorites—the top ten emoji account for about 40 percent of total emoji use.)

SwiftKey’s data can help us understand how people all over the world use emoji. But what this study doesn’t tell us is the local context for global emoji use. So we don’t know, for example, if Canadians are using the gun emoji figuratively, as in “I die 😵🔫,” or if they’re actually avid sportsmen (🎯🔫). Likewise, we don’t know if Spanish-speakers’ frequent use of the crying-face emoji (😭) means that sadness is rampant, or if people are simply using it to signal hysterical laughter (😂😂😭).

That’s the tricky thing about analyzing emoji data: knowing which emoji people are using does not tell us how they are using them. That information, I suppose, will have to wait for another study. Meanwhile there is little question about exactly how our nation is using that eggplant. 😏