How to decode emojis in texts from your grandchildren

James Jennings interviews linguist Dr Antonella Strambi for Australian Seniors.               

If you’ve ever tried to get a person under the age of 20 to speak on the phone, you’re no doubt aware there’s more chance of finding the Loch Ness monster – or getting it to take a call – then there is of them actually answering.                                                          

Texting has become the preferred form of communication for tweens and teens, and with it comes a whole new set of language conventions that can seem baffling.

University of South Australia linguist Dr Antonella Strambi, co-author of Exploring Language in Global Contexts, has a teenage daughter, making her quite the authority on the pitfalls of texting young people.                                                         

“There are lots of reasons why young people use a different kind of language, or slang, when they communicate, and technology is definitely a driver,” says Dr Strambi. “Young people have always been the ones who use new technology, and a lot of the terms that they use come when doing so.”                                                       

Dr Strambi’s top rule when it comes to texting young folk? Avoid trying to bridge the generation divide. “Adults will try to catch up with these new trends in language, but by the time we learn about them, young people have already moved on, so we’re always behind,” she says. “So just use the language that you would normally use.”                                                          

It’s not only language you need to be mindful of either – punctuation also has a surprising potential to catch you out. Most people now know that texting in all-caps indicates you’re shouting, but even the humble full stop may prove confronting to your grandchildren, who often do away with punctuation in texts for the sake of speed.                                                       

“My daughter was telling me that she feels threatened when people use a full stop at the end of a one-sentence text message,” says Dr Strambi. “It comes across like it’s a very strong statement – it’s almost threatening. So, there are definitely potential differences in the ways that things are interpreted.”                                           

Know your emoji

Misunderstood emojis

Commonly misunderstood emojis are the eggplant and peach, which have sexual connotations, and winking face, which is often used to say “I’m joking”, but young people interpret as flirtation.

The crying laughing emoji

Crying laughing

Most young people would see this as a laughing emoji, but sometimes other generations misinterpret it as actually crying.

A skull emoji


An older person might think this means ‘dead’, but for a younger person, it’s usually ‘I’m laughing until I’m dead.’

A heart emoji


Be careful using it to indicate you love something at work; some argue that it should be reserved for showing feelings to loved ones. But using it with grandchildren is fine.

Also, if you are preparing for the grandkids to visit, check out these tips.    

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