How to use emojis: The Country Life guide

Back in 2015, we decreed that a gentleman should ‘know when to use an emoji’, but when exactly is that? And how? James Fisher presents his gentleman’s guide – one that is equally applicable to ladies.

There are always sticks-in-the-mud. As society revolutionises itself over and over again, whether by the invention of the car, the telephone, electricity, Amazon Prime or Tinder, there is always someone who refuses to jump on board.

One such example would be radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer, who, on July 17, tweeted the following:

Julia clearly needs a lesson in how hashtags work, but we’ll save that for another day and focus instead on her abuse of the humble emoji. Julia – and she’s not alone – feels that emoji are ‘stupid symbols’ that shouldn’t be used by ‘bloody adults’.

Not for the first time, Julia is wrong.

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As most of you likely know, emoji are now a significant part of modern communcation. If you haven’t started using them, you soon will and, as with all new things, there needs to be a rulebook. Here is my take on what that rulebook should be – and I’ve never been wrong before.

What is vital, at all times, is to know your audience. A professional setting is not the place for emoji. Janice in HR has no time for a ‘winky face’ and, if you accidentally slip and send her an aubergine (more on that later), you’ll find yourself standing in front of a judge faster than you can type ‘my thumbs are too fat for this iPhone’.

Avoid emoji at work. They are ‘emotions’, after all, and the only emotion most people feel at work is sadness. There’s little point expressing sadness at work, because everyone there is just as sad as you. That’s why they pay you to turn up.

Work and funerals aside, pretty much any situation is fair game for emoji. If you are as cynical, sarcastic and consumed by self-loathing as I am, then emoji can be a vital tool.

I can regale you with countless times when a sarcastic text (‘No darling, I haven’t missed you at all, it’s been the best weekend ever, actually’) has landed me in the deepest manure. Tone will always be lost in the world of SMS or WhatsApp and that’s what emoji are there for: a delightful little brush to add some colour, depth and clarity to an otherwise binary form of communication.

Don’t, however, overdo it. In his sublime essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell bemoans the affliction of the modern writer to be verbose and overcomplicate. We’ll never know what Orwell would have made of emoji (that’s my next commission), but his point stands. Don’t use a mishmash of laughs and cries where one will do. If there’s anything that a modern gentleman should know, it’s always to exercise restraint.

Be clear and concise with your emoji – time is a precious commodity, as is attention, so don’t drown your recipient in emotions. It becomes difficult to decode and, most importantly, we’re English – excessive emotion isn’t something we’re good at.

Don’t be too obscure, either. The only time you should use the aerial-tramway emoji (the least popular of all emoji, my sources tell me) is when you’re on one. If you have to explain what an emoji means, you’ve undermined the whole point of using them in the first place. I’m told it’s humiliating. Stick with the symbols that everyone knows and leave abstraction to the artists.

When it comes to wooing a partner, tread carefully. Emoji can be your greatest asset or your most vicious enemy – God forbid you go out there, trying to impress your soulmate, and wreck it with a misplaced symbol. Don’t be crass or vulgar. There’s a temptation, because we prefer not to talk about sex, to use emoji as a cartoonish battering ram to try to break into the bedroom. They will never be a replacement for charm, wit and good manners.

The aubergine emoji (you know the one) must never be used. It’s aggressive, weird and about as classy as opening a Velcro wallet in a strip club. If you would like to invite someone to bed with you, take a deep breath and use words.

Despite such pitfalls Julia needn’t be so worried. Emoji are unlikely to replace English as the premier form of communication. Shakespeare is still Shakespeare and Byron is still Byron.

Emoji are, however, a universal language and a magnificent tool that, when used correctly, add a little joy and humanity to a lifestyle that is increasingly dominated by our phones. Use them clearly, use them sparingly and use them with feeling and you can’t go wrong.

Three of the best emojis…

Face with tears of joy

Perfect for showing that something is hilarious, because, let’s be honest, typing ‘hahaha’ is stupid.

Winking face

When sarcasm isn’t obvious, dial up a winking face to make sure you aren’t misunderstood. Save yourself an argument on me

See no evil monkey

When you, or someone you know, does something embarrassing. A sure contender for most-used emoji. At least by me.

…and three of the worst


Absolutely not. Never. Put the phone down and step away.

Clown face

Nobody likes clowns and, if you’re using this to describe your significant other’s makeup, you’re heading for a world of pain.

Pile of poo

Grow up.

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