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Defend Your List: Jenna Wortham On Her Most Recently Used Emojis

New York Times technology reporter, and contributor to an emoji zine, Jenna Wortham explains why she uses the ant emoji.

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Welcome to "Defend Your List," a new BuzzFeed FWD series where we ask internet humans to share and then defend their internet habits. Pretty much everything we do online is carefully tracked, categorized, and arranged into lists. Netflix queues. Amazon purchase histories. Browser histories. Recent Seamless orders. At first glance, they feel like random inputs, mundane details no one would be interested in. Viewed another way, though, they're some of the most telling expressions of one's true personality — your actual media diet.

For our inaugural post, BuzzFeed asked
New York Times technology reporter Jenna Wortham to defend a subject near and dear to her heart: her "recently used" emojis.

—Katie and Charlie



For me, emoji are more than pictures, they're slang, entire moods or thoughts conveyed in a single tiny cartoon. I don't use them in place of words or to illustrate a popular catchphrase from a movie — they're literally candy-colored visions from my brain that fluctuate depending on the conversation and the person I'm talking to. Every time I send one, I have a pretty clear idea of the face I would make or thing I would say in person. Although I like to think it comes across, the truth is I have no idea if it does, but I can't stop because I'm tired of texting. It takes too long to say a lot, and since texting often happens in short bursts on the train or while walking somewhere, it's hard to truly express yourself quickly and efficiently. I want to be post-text.

Emoji is my way. But I can't always find the right one, so I improvise a lot. I think it all shakes out in the end.


I was lying in bed watching Adventure Time when I looked down and saw a lil ant standing on my forearm doin some strange thing with its antenna, and I started cracking up because it looked like it was twerkin or doin the #yeet, which is this dance craze started by a toddler named Lil' Meatball and I love it.

I got really excited because I haven't had a legit reason to use the ant emoji before now, so I sent the ant followed by the words YEET YEET to describe (I think) the ant gettin' down on my arm. My friend Megan totally got it, though.

Sack of Money

The sack of money is always in the top 10 list. Its SO good in any situation — as a way to turn down a dinner/drinks invitation (as in, "sorry too much money! I gotta conserve funds 2nite") or even as a way to say something is baller or ballin, like, "Oh, you got stacks!" It's a congratulation, mostly, and the opposite of money flying away.


The ghost is my way of saying "I'm dead" or "YR dead" or even, like, "OMG I DIED of happiness, sadness or even embarrassment". Actually, I think I used it this week for anyone who sent me updates from Coachella — like "I'm a ghost" or "you're a ghost." Or, "I'm dead because I'm not there," and/or "yr dead because you've partied too hard and are now texting me from beyond the grave."


The burger just means "food" because its cute. It means any kind of meal, even if we're talking about getting drinks. Its like, "Let's consume some shit and hang out because burgers are a chill, social food." People get it.



The sparkle emoji is a way of saying "you're the best, this is magic, I love you," without the complexity of the figuring out which color heart to send in any given situation, which exhausts me to think about. Also, they are more like periods and signal the end of a given conversation.

The magic suggests that things are continuing, that they are in motion and in progress, maybe because it almost looks animated? I'm not sure, and I may be the only person who thinks that, but that's how it seems to me.

Lightning Bolt

The lightning bolt means "you're on fire!!!" I would have used the fire emoji, but I couldn't find it while I was texting a friend who was having a really spectacular day. I felt like it also worked for, like, "You're lucky and good things are happening," even though I guess a strike of lightning is the opposite of that? I'm not sure, but I still can't remember which screen fire is on so that is what I'm using for now.

Bouquet of Flowers

The flowers came up in convo as a signal for better weather, better conditions to do something. I used it to signal to a friend that we should rain check a trip to the Whitney Biennial for when the weather was better. More spring-y, flowery, if that makes sense.


Oh wait, I see that I DID find and use the fire emoji this week! Amazing.

So I guess I was able to alternate between the lightning bolt and fire this week. That's cool because both signal that things are happening, but the flame emoji also means that something is "hot," like an outfit or a look or an idea, so that's cool that I had both.

Water droplets

I use the sweat emoji to invite friends to hot yoga. Two sweat clusters followed by a time, place, and question mark serves as an invitation to a class. That's very straightforward to me.

Clinking Beer Mugs

Two beers clinking means "go HAM, get wild, go crazy." If someone texted me that they were finally off deadline or leaving work early, I'd send the beer mugs to say "enjoy celebrate, live yr life, you deserve it."

Arm and 100

The bicep and "100" mean the same thing. Basically, instead of typing out "yes" or "OK," it's an affirmative signal. I use them any time someone texts something that warrants a positive reply, and I'm too lazy to be like, "cool" or "OK" or even "yes!!"

All emoji images from

Correction: A previous version of this post used an image of the "prayer hands" emoji instead of the "hallelujah hands" emoji. The error was corrected quickly [hallelujah emoji], thank you for your understanding [prayer hands emoji].

Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

Contact Katie Notopoulos at

Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.

Contact Charlie Warzel at

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