It was not so long ago that if you were feeling sad and wanted to text a friend about it, you had to spell it out: “Girl, I’m sad.” Today, we have far more options, all available with the push of a button. We can now communicate with a mish-mash of words, emoticons (╯°□°）╯ ︵ ┻━┻, emoji , the crying Michael Jordan .gif, stickers of Pusheen the cat gently weeping, and seemingly infinite memes. Writing is retrospective and non-linear in ways that day-to-day conversation is not. But as we rely more and more on text-based digital communication, a curious divergence has emerged: Texting, despite being mechanically similar to writing, more closely mimics speaking. Like speech, texting is loose. Most people don’t think about capitalization and punctuation when texting. As Columbia University linguist John McWhorter puts it: “Texting is fingered speech. We text the way we talk.” But texting in words alone doesn’t telegraph a look on someone’s face, or adjust the tone of voice to clarify intent. It’s all too easy to be misunderstood online. This is where emoji come in: The little icons reinforce intent and strengthen expression. This is why .gifs, memes, and emoji have so quickly become our lingua franca. Each of these visual vocabularies has a different use, helping us to be understood.