At a time when in-person conversations are harder to come by, many people are choosing to express their thoughts about the pandemic with emojis. But perhaps no emoji has come to embody the hopes and fears of this unthinkable moment as much as the folded hands emoji.
The folded hands emoji has popped up in more tweets than ever before to help express our feelings about seemingly every aspect of a health crisis that can sometimes defy words. It's used to give thanks to frontline workers, send prayers to loved ones and express gratitude for finding toilet paper on supermarket shelves.
The emoji, sometimes called prayer hands, was used 25% more often in April than in August, the last time that particular character was analyzed by Emojipedia, which tracks trends and frequency of emoji use on Twitter. That spike made it the eighth most popular emoji for the month -- and cemented its position as a visual emblem for how we feel during the pandemic.
As coronavirus cases ticked up and lockdowns spread around the world, the way we communicate evolved quickly. Water-cooler conversations were replaced by Slack chats. Happy hours and birthday parties now unfold on Zoom. Phone calls made a comeback. And people are increasingly relying on emoji to express their thoughts and gestures to an audience they can no longer see in person.
Nearly one in five tweets now include an emoji, up from about one in six tweets during same time last year, according to Emojipedia. Icons such as the face with a medical mask, the microbe and a bar of soap have also spiked in messages specifically associated with the coronavirus.
Yet, some things haven't changed. Emojipedia found the most popular emoji remains the tears of joy face, which was named as word of the year in 2015 by the Oxford Dictionary.
In the absence of more new coronavirus emoji, some have gotten creative with how they've been sharing existing emoji during the pandemic. In Spain, for example, the pairing of the microbe emoji with the crown emoji -- "crown" translates to "la corona" in the Spanish language -- has gained traction.
Others are turning to options like the folded hands emoji, which first appeared on smartphones in the US in 2012. Long before the pandemic, it had been used to represent many things, from a high five and a Namaste icon to a token of gratitude or prayer.
Angela Guzman, one of the early emoji designers for iOS, said the best approach to emoji design is to create visual symbols with versatility to evolve with people and the times they live in.
"A word that we used five years ago may mean something else today -- the same is true of emojis," said Guzman. "For this reason, when designing an emoji, current trends can play a role in its creation. But it's important not to add too many embellishments that will not last with the test of time."