They have become ubiquitous on computers and smartphones. From the bog standard smiley face to halos and aeroplanes, emojis are now used by an estimated 90 per cent of the world's internet users – 3.2 billion people.
But one of the world's leading experts in language and communication has said the colourful glyphs do far more than just brighten up our text messages to friends and family.
When it comes to communication, the 'men are from Mars, women from Venus' adage suggests the gulf of understanding that can exist between the sexes. However, in a new book, Prof Vyvyan Evans, says emojis help men and women get on better with each other, because the images clarify a message's meaning.
Decoding the glyphs
"Men frequently take a statement by their significant other at face value when, in fact, there is an underlying meaning," he said. "For example, when a guy says to a woman, 'I'm going out with my mates,' and the woman replies, 'Fine, do whatever you want,' she is actually testing his judgment. She is saying, 'You should know me well enough by now to know that I will not be fine with that'.
"Understanding that communicative intention is key to a harmonious relationship."
And, Prof Evans argues, men are more likely to understand that communicative intention if it is conveyed in writing along with an emoji. "If a woman sends the message 'Fine, do whatever you want,' on a smartphone and adds the 'angry face' or 'disappointed face' emoji, it gives the recipient a non-verbal cue, a metacomment, showing him how to interpret the words. A guy can't miss it and there is very little room for misunderstanding."
Another common "miscommunication", Prof Evans said, stems from people's tendency to answer 'Nothing' when asked by their partner if anything is wrong. Quite often men or women take this answer at face value, when, in fact, the respondent means the opposite.
Again, in the digital realm, a sender can make their true intentions clear by appending an emoji, such as the 'unamused face' or 'frowning face'.
In fact, Prof Evans goes as far as to say emojis are almost essential in digital communication.
"We are now in the world's third industrial revolution," he said. "As online communication takes over from aspects of face-to-face interaction, we need to use emojis to better express ourselves, to help people relate to us and to successfully convey our personality."
A survey commissioned by the dating website Match.com two years ago found that the more emojis a singleton used in their messages, the more dates they went on.
It also found that emoji users had more sex – 54 per cent of those who regularly used emojis had had sex in the preceding year, compared with 31 per cent of those that didn't.
The Daily Telegraph, London