Do you see a peach here... or something more, er, fruity?

You answer depends on your age, says JOHN DOLAN, who reveals the emoji language gap minefield
Do you see a peach here... or something more, er, fruity?

Peach emoji

WE live in an age where language and communication is both a minefield and a fast-moving battle-ground.

Is it still OK to call a female actor an actress? In fact, is it still OK to call a female a woman? What are your personal pronouns? He/him, they/their, or up/yours?

Words matter, we are told. They appear to carry more force today than the fabled sticks and stones of my childhood - those bone-breaking weapons my parents’ generation used to reassure us whenever we complained to them that we had been called names.

The pleas to mind our Ps and Qs can be hard enough to heed when we meet someone in person, at a wedding, in the office, or in a pub.

But in the less personal world of instant remote communication, of texts/WhatsApps, and emails, the language barrier can often break down completely - to comic and/or tragic effect.

Take this simple example.

Your niece has offered to do your shopping, and you send her a list, concluding that you would really like some juicy peaches.

Remembering that your niece is from the younger generation, you send on the peach emoji, alongside one of a drooling face. Clever you.

Uh oh.

Said niece is not happy, not happy at all. Because the emojis you sent, to her, mean you have passed a distinctly unsuitable compliment about her backside.

Half-assed or what?

Yes, there is a generational gap between what the peach emoji on the right means to us silver fogeys, and what it means to millennials. A stone fruit or a bottom!

It gets worse.

Let’s just say it’s best never to send an aubergine emoji to anyone, for any reason. The shape is too suggestive for words (literally).

To those in their twenties, it can be an indication of someone’s impressive manhood, or even, apparently, an invitation to partake in some hot sex (the only kind on offer this week, to be fair).

My ratatouille will never quite taste the same again...

For those in Generation X - born between the mid-1960s and early-1980s, it can be a case of Generation XXX for all those innocent emojis. The young uns have hijacked them for their own code - and left us high and dry.

Take the cheeky wink emoji, which us oldies will often use to express the fact we are joshing. Harmless, yes?

Not to a 20-something, as it is a sexy, suggestive come-on - which will either send them into raptures, or trigger them to within an inch of their life.

On one level, this is quite funny and harmless. On another level, though, it could lead to all manner of sexual harassment allegations and awkward conversations with family, friends, and HR.

The wink emoji is innocent enough for us oldies, but can be very suggestive to younger people
The wink emoji is innocent enough for us oldies, but can be very suggestive to younger people

The miscommunications are not all one way either. A younger person hoping to get frisky with someone a little older may find their aubergine or peach emoji sends their puzzled quarry to the supermarket.

These eye-opening examples of the emoji minefield were revealed in a report this week by the workplace messaging service Slack.

In a survey of 9,400 office staff worldwide, it found the most common emoji faux pas in workplaces were pictures of lips, the tongue, a smiling poo — yikes! — and that perky aubergine.

Many of the oldies surveyed had no idea of these hidden meanings - nearly half had no clue a peach left them the butt of a joke.

Olivia Grace, a director at Slack, warned: “The findings of our research are very clear. Be mindful when communicating with emojis across generations … it’s good to be aware that different meanings may exist to avoid any awkward interpretations.”

Yes, but how are us older wans meant to keep up with the ever-evolving word of emojis?

In writing this, I am naively starting to ponder why the world needed a peach or aubergine emoji in the first place - were they intended to be sexualised from the off? In which case, who failed to send me the memo?

Back when they were invented, 25 years ago, in 1997, there were 90 emojis - now there are 3,633, according to UNICODE — the emoji world governing body. (Emoji, by the way comes from the Japanese for ‘picture character’).

Ten billion are sent daily - and a good few of those will be badly misjudged, by the look of it.

Of course, to us reactionary parents and grandparents, this is another example of the modern world being a bit rubbish.

In the days before iphones and connectivity, people used to use their actual face to communicate their emotions to another person. Wild, I know.

I suppose that is the problem with communication these days - it is so impersonal and often open to interpretation, because you usually cannot see the other person’s body language and cues. One person’s amiable banter could be viewed as creepy and alarming at the receiving end, and be difficult to shut down.

You might recall a survey a few years ago which showed young people even view a full stop in a text or WhatsApp message as aggressive, insincere and rude.

This will be anathema to people like me, who treat grammatics very seriously, but Erika Darics, a lecturer in linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, told the BBC a few years ago of the dangers of the simple full stop

“If you and your friends don’t normally use full stops in a WhatsApp group and then somebody does, they are probably trying to tell you something about how they feel,” she said.

The skull emoji to young people can mean something is so funny, you nearly died laughing
The skull emoji to young people can mean something is so funny, you nearly died laughing

It’s a bloody dot! Is there a danger of over-thinking all this?

Of course, young people have always adapted language to their own devices, so stuffy old farts do not know what they’re discussing. Words and phrases come in and out of fashion - my teenage son often wearily responds to one of my nags by telling me to “cry about it”.

But there is a serious side to this communication failure too.

A few years ago, gardaí were urged to produce a guide for parents on various codes being used by their children to hold highly-sexualised interactions with their friends.

Anne Rabbitte TD, Minister for Children, Equality, and Youth, said few parents would know the letters GNOC, in teen text speak, mean ‘get naked on cam’ while IWSN is shorthand for ‘I want sex now’.

The emoji language is always changing and adapting too - who would have thought early in 2020 that the syringe one would soon be so pervasive?

The manicure emoji is now said to signify ‘waiting for gossip’, and the skull one - far from signifying death - means something is so funny, you nearly died laughing.

Give me strength. Keeping up with all of this is a right pain in the... peach.

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