By many measures, ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face With Tears of Joy has led the pack as the most used emoji in recent years. Dogging its heels, though, is another smiley: ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes. In 2017, this emoji ranked 4th on Apple platforms and 2nd on Facebook.

๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes has a winning smile, to be sure, but its popularity may be due to the cross-cultural familiarity of those throbbing peepers. Where do they come from?

๐Ÿ”ค Meaning

Colloquially referred to as Heart-Eyes and officially called Smiling Face with Heart-Shaped Eyes within the Unicode Standard, ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes enthusiastically conveys love and infatuation, as if to say โ€œI love/am in love withโ€ or โ€œIโ€™m crazy about/obsessed withโ€ someone or something.

The objects of its passion are many and various, ranging from people to possessions, and its tone can be romantic or platonic depending on context.

๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes has a seldom used feline peer, ๐Ÿ˜ป Smiling Cat Face with Heart-Eyes.

๐Ÿ’ฌ Development

Weโ€™ve been taken with ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes since 2010, when Unicode 6.0 approved it for use on a variety of modern platforms.

Apple incorporated it as part of its early, limited-release emoji implementation for Japan in 2008, and the original incarnation from Japanese carriers dates back to as early as 1999.

On the Apple keyboard, ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes sitsโ€”with apparent satisfactionโ€”between ๐Ÿ˜Ž Smiling Face With Sunglasses and ๐Ÿ˜˜ Face Blowing a Kiss, itself a Top Ten emoji. But a great many of us donโ€™t need to scroll to locate ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes, as it finds a ready home under our โ€œRecently Usedโ€ tabs.

Above: The Heart-Eyes Emoji is very consistent across platforms, mainly varying by teeth and tongue. Only HTC's has a closed mouth.

Across platforms, ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes has a fairly uniform appearance. Except for HTC, the emoji boasts a full, slack-jawed smile, sometimes flashing teeth and tongue, as we see on Microsoft. And most distinctively, of course, two red or pink hearts burst with love as the emojiโ€™s eyes.

The consistency of ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes joins a growing convergence of emoji design, particularly noticeable after Google retired its โ€œblobsโ€ and Samsung started hewing to the look of other vendors.

Above (left to right): The Heart-Eyes emoji on Google Android 4.4, Google Android 8.0, Samsung TouchWiz 7.0, and Samsung Experience 9.0.

History, though, is instructive here.

Before Samsung Experience 9.0 and under Google Android 4.4 and 5.0, the two tech giants featured ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes emojis that keeled back, as if literally love-struck. Their design is more dynamic, even more cartoonishโ€”and for good reason. Artists have long inked heart-shaped eyes as a visual shorthand for love in both Western and Japanese comics and animation.

In Western cartoons, we can find classic characters like Donald Duck, Tom Cat, Penelope Pussycat, and Snoopy swooning with hearts for eyes when smitten by a sweetheart. The convention apparently draws on the use of floating, free-form hearts to convey love as well as eyes popping out of a characterโ€™s head to portray extreme emotion. More contemporary Western cartoon characters, from the Animaniacsโ€™ Dot to SpongeBob SquarePants, continue the heart-eyes trope while also nodding to its history in cartoons.

Above: The Heart-Eyes emoji takes its inspiration from cartoons, as seen in Tom Cat from "The Tom & Jerry Show" (left) and beloved anime character Sailor Moon (right).

The Japanese counterparts, manga and anime, use a special system of symbols to depict various emotional and physical states. One is the snot bubble, which supplies the tear-drop shape in the oft-misleading ๐Ÿ˜ช Sleepy Face, whose emojiology we previously explored. Another includes heart-eyes, representing infatuation or adoration. The eyes of character Sailor Moon, of the series of the same name, notably pulse with plump, pink hearts when sheโ€™s enamored. The style of her hearts also evoke kawaii, the Japanese pop-culture phenomenon of โ€œcutenessโ€ that gave us Hello Kitty.

Some new members of the emoji family, 2015's ๐Ÿค‘ Money-Mouth Face and 2017's ๐Ÿคฉ Star-Struck , also call on stylized eyes used in Western and Japanese cartoon traditions.

The particular oversized, "gaga" hearts on ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes bears close resemblance to heart-eyes in manga and anime, as does the exaggerated, gasping mouth. This suggests emoji designers may have been influenced by a more Japanese aesthetic. Unlike with ๐Ÿ˜ช Sleepy Face, however, Westerners, already familiar with them from their Saturday morning Cartoons or Sunday funnies, needed no education on what heart-eyes signify.

When it comes to using ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes, we might say it was indeed love at first sightโ€”for East and West alike.

โœ… Examples

While ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes may originate in depictions of romantic love, it has proven itself a versatile and go-to emoji, employed as a fun and energetic way to fawn over some object of affection, including:

Adorable animals

Beautiful landscapes

Attractive people

Celebrity crushes

Beloved siblings

Significant others

Nom nom nom

A few of our favorite things

As @shopDisneyโ€™s tweet shows, we are increasingly using ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes not only to mark tone, but also in playful substitution of love words themselves, e.g., โ€œI ๐Ÿ˜/am in ๐Ÿ˜ this!โ€ or "He/she/they are my ๐Ÿ˜!"

And as the Disney tweet also suggests, businesses are taking advantage of the popularity of ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes on social media. One social media practice swaps ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes for the likes of โ€œExtremely Satisfiedโ€ on common rating scales:

๐Ÿ—’๏ธ Usage Notes

๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes might owe much of its success to its mix of two qualities in great demand in our digital age: Itโ€™s both personal and exclamatory.

๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes is a like button with an exclamation point.

Because itโ€™s a smiley, ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes has subjectivityโ€”it has an โ€œI,โ€ it signals there is a person behind the screen. Its bouncy and bubbly hearts, meanwhile, are dramatic, emphatic, and obvious, leaving no room for the ambiguity that ruins many a text or tweet.

That blend sets ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes apart, if subtly, from its close companion, โค๏ธ Red Heart, though they are commonly paired or sometimes interchanged. In private messages, โค๏ธ Red Heart can often convey much more intimate sentiments of love than ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes intends while in public ones, โค๏ธ Red Heart can lack the excitement of ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes.

Maybe itโ€™s that balance, personal but not too personal, that makes us all so ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ˜ about ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes.