Today, even without character restrictions, emojis can still communicate emotions with greater ease, speed and flexibility than words can.
The melting face is no exception. On the more literal side, it can be a way of expressing, say, the sensation caused by a broken air-conditioner. Figuratively, it can be used to convey how one feels after an embarrassing interaction with a crush, the exhaustion of living through a pandemic and, of course, sarcasm.
“It evokes a metaphoric frame or metaphoric knowledge base that should be relatively accessible to people — the notion of melting,” Mr. Cohn said. That concept can then be applied to all kinds of emotions.
All emojis “are usually designed with the intention that they can be used in flexible, multifaceted ways, in the same way that many words can be flexibly used,” Mr. Cohn added.
And visual language, of course, can be even more elastic than words. “Illustration can do things that reality can’t,” Ms. Daniel said.
Case in point: “melting face” and its myriad interpretations, many of them quite affecting.
“Emojis aren’t inherently deep,” said Erik Carter, the graphic designer who created the sample image for the melting face. “It’s how people use them that makes them profound.”
He offered a reading of his own. Many of us, he said, may feel hopeless because of things like climate change, or “our government’s inaction.” “Sometimes,” he said, “it does feel as though the best we can do is smile as we melt away.”