As I write this over 256 million ‘tears of joy’ emoticons have been used on Twitter, since began collating this sort of data.

That yellow face with horrendously proportioned facial features and two tears is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous symbols used over messaging platforms and social media. They can be used as a gauge to measure how funny you actually are – the more you get, the funnier you are. Well, so it seems.

If I’m talking to a friend over WhatsApp and send something remotely humorous, I’ll receive a reply that can be basically interpreted as a line of those particular emoji. I then realise I can’t exactly reply to something like that and so the conversation ends.

Emoji began as a Japanese phenomenon. The ‘e’ meaning picture and ‘moji’ meaning character. That is essentially what they are represented as. They range from various emotions to a range of pointless objects (that you could simply spell out).

They are “a creative way of getting around the limitations digital communication puts on us.” Undeniably, they allow us to convey meaning with more clarity; incorporate a tone with which we intend our messages to be read. All this goes someway to making sure what we say isn’t misinterpreted.

These small characters allow us to replace words entirely and have opened a new door with regards to brevity. In a world where we incarcerate ourselves in 140 character-long Tweet boxes, being economical with language is a wonderful thing.

Thirteen months ago the US Library of Congress accepted a ‘translation’ into emoji of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. This illustrated representation of sentences is quite literally replacing words.

It’s a universally accepted element of our communication now. Receiving a message from my mother reading ‘Okay’ is a thing of the past. Because she has all these characters at her disposal, she’ll reply with a ‘thumbs up’ emoji to convey her approval. And that annoys me.

We’re not quite going back to drawing cave paintings, but we shouldn’t have to express ourselves through symbols. It’s not the fundamental concept of pictures representing words, it’s the reliance people have on them to pass on a message. Emoticons exacerbate this failure to express ourselves.

On Facebook you can attach an emotion to your status (like: ‘feeling sad’, ‘feeling sick’) to further intensify the depth of your update to your virtual friends. If they can’t understand how you are feeling through your words alone, then you’re Facebooking wrong.

I do occasionally fall victim of using the ‘tears of joy’ emoji and accept its convenience; I was going to incorporate screen-shots of chats to elucidate my points, but realised it would defeat the purpose of this post – we communicate and respond visually, but we have words, so why not use them?

Are we losing our ability to communicate?